Recycling Etiquette

So I’d like to think that I am a recycler. I am. I am a person who recycles. And not even just the regular stuff either. I have a recycling bin, a general waste bin and a food and garden waste bin and I even have a kitchen caddy – you can’t get more recycling mad than that, can you? Especially not now it’s been made so much easier by many councils, so now I don’t have to separate glass and metal and paper and blah and instead it all goes into one handy bin and gets carted off each week by the lovely bin men.


But, am I an efficient recycler? And could I do more? Probably. And actually I am quite finickity about, oh, you know, everything, so I can’t think of anything I’d like more than an army of different bins all lined up shoulder to shoulder standing proudly in my kitchen. But I just don’t have the space, nor have I been properly briefed on recycling etiquette, and that’s what this blog is about. Together we shall learn the do’s and don’ts of recycling, and hopefully create a more harmonious world for all in doing so.


Services and facilities vary from separated waste collection (glass, plastic, newspaper etc) to a single kerbside “green box” which is so simple, and actually encourages (I think) more people to recycle: once you know what you can recycle, just chuck it all in one place and hey presto, you’re doing your bit for the environment! Unfortunately, we, dear people, are a little bit lazy, a little bit forgetful and often very busy – we want ease, and ease comes in the form of one box for all.


Now, the variation in recycling schemes is due to the following:


  1. Cost – it costs a lot to invest in new recycling facilities, so councils that are strapped for cash are happy to stick to the already established processes instead of implementing change.
  2. Targets – Of course recycling targets are weight-based, so the focus shifts onto heavier waste streams (glass, metal) at the expense of lighter plastics, which makes us look like we are doing more, when in fact, it isn’t the case
  3. Logistics – Collection can be problematic in rural (long distances between homes, scarcity of recycling facilities) and urban areas (limited space, tower blocks).
  4. No nationwide framework – Industry bodies, charities and campaign groups encourage best practice but there is still a lack of government guidance.


So what is the best way to recycle? And, indeed, is there a “best” way? Well, there are two common ways: “co-mingled” and “separate”.


Clearly, separating recyclables takes time, whereas “co-mingled” or “mixed waste” collections are easier for the householder, and boost overall recycling levels. Co-mingled kerbside collections reduce the number of trips householders make to recycling centres – however – to collect the material accepted in co-mingled schemes individually, kerbside collection lorries would need to be highly compartmentalised – but! Once this has been implemented co-mingled collections certainly become more energy-efficient.


On the other hand, costs increase as more collection and separation is required once your box has been taken away. And co-mingled waste leads to an increased risk of yucky contamination. Different types of material are in contact with each other, and a single kerbside box may result in us householders being less attentive when sorting stuff out, I know I’ve been known to not properly wash out or squash a thing before chucking it in the box. I’m guilty! I’m sorry, okay?!


But there is a nice and easy solution: the dual bag method which has been adopted by several local authorities. Powys County Council, for example, provide households with two bags – a red one for plastics and metal, a black one for paper, card and textiles. Partial separation makes the process more efficient for the council, without placing a burden on householders, which is quite cool and as long as you know which bag is which and what you can put in it, you’re good to go.


Now, for the two most important recycling rules, wash and squash!

Wash: Scrape out any food remains/pour away excess liquid and rinse the container just by using your washing-up water.

2.      Squash: Crush metal cans and squeeze plastic bottles flat to expel as much air as possible.


Doing this helps prevent contamination and reduces the volume of the recycling, meaning you can fit more into your box each week, making collections more energy efficient – and we all want to reduce our carbon footprint now don’t we?


And that’s that, really. The etiquette depends on where you’re living, but we should all be doing it, and actually we don’t have any excuse to not! So get recycling, people! Check out recycling provision in your area by visiting Recycle Now. If you are unsure, contact your local authority for details. Ask to speak to the Waste Minimisation Team or Recycling Officer and have all your questions answered. In the meantime, I’ll be making sure I wash and squash more, and who knows? I might even look into composting …


Blog By: Annie M

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