Discover what recycling is, how it works, and the steps you can take at home to ensure that you are recycling properly to prevent more harmful waste entering our natural systems.
In this day and age, our awareness of the world’s waste crisis has increased dramatically. We now know that we are living on a planet with finite resources while our constant consumption of consumer goods plagues the natural world. Climate change is here and the devastation has only just begun.
But there is hope, a sparkle of ambition that we can all play our part to protect the planet. No, this doesn’t mean you have to do everything you can think of to perfection, like living off the grid and only eating berries you’ve foraged. But neither does it mean we can just sit back and not take any action at all.
What we can do is our best, and one of these ways is to rethink our waste management.
Recycling | What is it?
For those of you who are unsure of what recycling is exactly, here’s a small description. Recycling is the system and process of taking already-used products, such as plastic bottles or containers and stripping them down to their bare materials in order to reproduce new objects.
The ability to recycle depends solely on the materials themselves. For example, it’s easy to recycle PET plastic-like beverage bottles, but difficult to recycle glass that makes up mirrors. These materials and their level of recyclability will be outlined later on in the post.
How to recycle everyday items in your home
Recycling isn’t as simple as collecting everything you think can be recycled, dropping it off at your local recycling port, and trusting that they will sort out the rest.
There are certain ways to recycle specific items that will aid in the recycling process as a whole. It may take a little more effort, but it will be entirely worth it and, in the end, the earth will thank you for it.
Contrary to popular belief, you cannot recycle your goods by tying them up in a plastic bag and trusting that the bag itself will be recycled too. That plastic bag will have to be re-sorted in the recycling port, and more often than not, will still end up in a landfill laying waste to the earth.
Rather, reduce your consumption of plastic bags by purchasing a reusable bag for your shopping. If you do buy a plastic bag, reuse this plastic bag as much as possible before disposing of it.
Pro Tip: Keep your reusable bag in your car or by the front door of your house so you don’t forget to grab it on your way out.
Plastic bottles are one of the easiest recyclable goods. However, the lid of these bottles isn’t recyclable. Made from polypropylene, the caps melt increasingly faster than the bottles themselves, and when recycled together, often contaminates the plastic bottle and renders it useless for recycling.
Instead, remove the bottle cap and crush the bottle as much as possible. This will not only give you more space in your rubbish bin, saving an extra black bag but will also aid in the recycling process when handed in.
You can, however, recycle the caps separately, which will be grouped together in the recycling port and managed separately and more efficiently.
Plastic bottles, especially the 1.5 litres and 5 litres ones, are great for making eco-bricks too. An eco-brick is a plastic bottle filled with clean and dry non-biodegradable waste, like plastic bags, and often waste that can’t be recycled, such as crisp packets and polystyrene. Eco-bricks are used as a building material for structures, such as buildings and furniture.
Luckily, glass is also one of those fabulous items that can be recycled and made into various other container goods. However, there’s still a certain way to recycle glass.
Always colour code your glass items when recycling. The greens stick with the greens while the clears get a whole separate box to themselves.
Unfortunately, glass derived from mirrors or crystal cannot be recycled, so take care of those items!
Cans, which are made up of aluminium, are 100 percent recyclable. Much like with plastic bottles, compress your cans when you prepare them for recycling.
Metals also include foil and trays – yes, these can be recycled! Just ensure that they’re as clean as possible without residue from oil as it risks contaminating all the recycling items being sorted.
I love a rich, creamy cappuccino every now and again and I certainly don’t own one of those luxury coffee machines. Purchasing coffee from a café is great, but the cups are not. Despite seeming to be made entirely of cardboard, these take away cups often contain a thin layer of plastic around their centre body to keep the cups waterproof.
While some may be recyclable, we must remember to always reduce before hitting that recycling button.
Another alternative comes in the form of a reusable cup. Many are made of bamboo and can be cleaned and made good as new even after a few uses. These are sold at many coffee shops and often these coffee shops will give you a discount on your coffee when bringing your own cup.
Pro Tip: Keep your reusable cup in your car at all times, in case you forget it at home and have to use a disposable cup when ordering your next drink.
Pro Tip: When ordering a coffee from a takeaway cup, ditch the attachable lid. It’s made purely of plastic and you will be able to navigate to your next destination without spilling your entire coffee – trust me, if I can do this, so can you.
Styrofoam, or expanded polystyrene, comes in the form of chip packets and many disposable food containers that are made from multiple layers of polymer materials. Styrofoam is extremely hard to recycle as the material is flammable and can be contaminated easily.
Some recycling stations have specific drop-off centres that accept styrofoam, but the best bet to save the environment from this devastating material would be to avoid buying products that come in styrofoam packaging altogether.
This may seem daunting, but there are alternative products that use eco-friendly packaging and may change your perspective on mindful consumerism. Examples include but are not limited to MicroGREEN and EarthAware packaging, who use plant-based material. But with more research conducted every day, many more alternatives are being discovered.
Ignitable, toxic, and reactive chemicals sit inside many of the items we use today. Paints, batteries, pesticides, and cleaning products just to name a few. These are incredibly harmful to the natural environment.
Luckily, many of these items can be recycled. It’s a long, complicated process, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.
There are many drop-off centres and recycling ports that accept these hazardous leftovers, and the best thing to do is separate them by item. For example, keep only the batteries together while grouping the cleaning products separately.
The other option is – you guessed it – reduce. Try diluting your cleaning agent with water to make it last longer, using less and prolonging your next buy. Next time you need batteries, purchase rechargeable batteries so a one-off use is not even in the question.
Then, there’s always an alternative. Swap out your general cleaners for a more eco-friendly inclined brand.
Pro Tip: Look up online on how to make your own cleaning agents! Some ingredients include baking soda, lemon juice, vinegar, and your favourite essential oils.
Food Waste / Organic Waste
Generally, households pack about 215 kilograms of food scrap and waste a year. That’s an incredible amount of edible products that are simply being thrown with the rest of the garbage. But there is so much you can do with your food waste that can not only help you but also aid in the betterment of the planet.
Sending your food waste off with your trash means it will end up in a landfill, taking up space and release the vile methane gas that contaminates the atmosphere. Instead, if you have space, why don’t you start a compost heap? It is one of the easiest, hands-free ways to help save the planet.
To start a compost heap, all you need is a large bin, bucket, or tub placed outside or stored away if kept indoors (it can get rather smelly). This is what you can throw into your compost system:
Greens: Fruit, veg, and coffee grounds are ideal for composting as it enriches the soil.
Browns: Dead leaves and fireplace ash make suitable members of the compost heap.
Papers: Newspapers, cardboard, and regular pieces of paper can be added to the mix.
Leftovers: Teabags and eggshells can be composted with the rest of the ingredients to make up a healthy load of soil for repurposing. DON’T throw in your meat. It will attract pests and take longer to break down. Rather, keep it as organic as you can.
Pro-Tip: If you don’t have enough room to incorporate a large compost dome, why don’t you take your food waste to a local farmer! They will be thrilled to receive the extra nutrients for their hard-working soil and you’ll be getting rid of your waste in the best possible way.
Your Guide to Different Types of Plastic
With many forms of plastic out there, it can be confusing to understand which is which and how each type relates to recycling. Therefore, we’ve curated a list and set up a table to help you navigate the world of plastics and recycle with heightened awareness.
1) Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE or PET)
PET is the most common form of plastic and is widely recycled. These objects include beverage bottles and food containers and take about 5 to 10 years to decompose, apart from plastic bottles which take 450 years to biodegrade. However, these can be recycled and repurposed easily, even though only an average of 36% of PET items are actually recycled every year.
2) High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
Milk bottles, shampoo bottles, and body wash containers – this is HDPE. It is one of the safest forms of plastic and is recycling-friendly. However, when left out in the open to decompose alone, it will take up to 100 years to disappear. 30-35 % of HDPE is recycled annually.
3) Polyvinyl Chloride (V or PVC)
PVC is made up of objects like food wrapping, tiles, children’s toys, and credit cards. These often contain harmful chemicals that can contaminate the earth further. These items NEVER decompose, left to sit on the planet for eternity. And, unfortunately, only less than 1% of these products are recycled every year. Since they are rarely recycled, we should attempt to upcycle instead.
4) Low-density Polyethylene Terephthalate (LDPE)
This is your average plastic bag that you receive your shopping in, and your bubble wrap, as well as your take-away beverage cups. It’s a relatively safe and clean form of recyclable plastic, but cannot be recycled with other common plastics. However, taking 500 to 1 000 years to decompose, this plastic is an evil to the earth. With only 6% of LDPE recycled annually, we need to make more of an effort to rid the planet of this plague.
5) Polypropylene (PP)
PP includes plastic items that make up syrup and yogurt containers, tupperware, and straws. It’s accepted as a recycling product, but only 3% is recycled every year. This plastic form takes between 20 – 30 years to decompose naturally.
6) Polystyrene (PS)
This is the infamous styrofoam, making up many one-use containers and throw away cutlery. It takes 50 years to biodegrade by itself, but luckily it’s easily recognisable nature has allowed 34% of its waste recycled annually.
7) Polycarbonate (Miscellaneous Plastics)
Sunglasses, nylon, CDs, and computer casing are sorted in the miscellaneous category of plastics. These are extremely hard to recycle, and therefore are barely ever recycled at all. When left alone, they will NEVER biodegrade.
Table of Plastics
Important tips to remember when recycling
- Always clean all of your items you are about to recycle. Flush them out with water and ensure no food residue is clinging to the sides. If left unclean, it will contaminate not only that one item but all the recyclables it’s transported with. If this happens, all these products will be rendered useless for recycling.
- Never throw oil down the drain. Even if it’s just a drop. If oil leaks down the drain, it can contaminate over one million gallons of fresh water flowing through the systems to reach our homes – which is then filtered back into the environment. It’s all connected, and it starts with us making that one choice. Rather, give the oil time to solidify and scrape it into the bin.
From reading this blog post I hope you’ve gained more awareness of recycling, how important it is for the future of our planet, and how recycling doesn’t take much effort if you follow everything mentioned in this blog post.
Most importantly, remember that recycling is the LAST step when it comes to protecting the environment.
Refuse, reduce, reuse, and recycle – in that order, please!
This blog post was written & published by Georgia Carter from Cosmic Creatives