Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Recycling, is it just a load of rubbish?

A general change in attitude to recycling has been significant over the last thirty years or so, I know that I have become much more conscious of how I dispose of rubbish, packaging and unwanted items. On a day to day basis, habits of recycling in our home have become routine. Some of this is imposed upon us by the local councils household rubbish disposal policies and much more of it has changed as I have become more aware of the impact of my immediate and wider environment.

Here in Monmouthshire, the council allow us to put out two black rubbish bags per fortnight. These are for non-recyclable items like the thin plastic wrappers that are put on food stuffs, actually that's almost the only thing that goes into the black rubbish bag in our house as we have developed careful recycling and reusing practices. We are also allowed to put as many recycling bags as we like. Sorting our recycling into paper and cardboard or plastic, metal and glass or food recycling. Mr J has told me how pleased he is that we manage to send so little to be recycled and to landfill as it means that we are reusing it here at home, we often send only one (not completely filled) black bag per fortnight.

Here is how we reuse some of our household waste.
  • Large cardboard boxes are flattened and used in the garden. At the moment, we are using them to line the base of raised beds to kill off the grass before we fill the beds with topsoil and compost.
  • Small cardboard boxes like food packaging either go into the recycling bag or are torn up and added to the compost heap or used as fire lighters for the wood-burning stove.
  • Cardboard inner tube from loo rolls are either stuffed with shredded paper to make firelighters or filled with compost to sow seeds in.
  • Confidential paperwork is shredded, used in loo roll middles as firelighters or added to the compost heap, later in the year I will use some in bean trenches.
  • Ash from the wood burners goes into the compost heap.
  • Polystyrene type packaging that comes in large household items' packaging is kept and will be used to line the lower half of the green house in the winter which should help to insulate it.
  • Old feather pillows and cushions are opened up and the feathers are used in the compost heap.
  • Clothes that are reusable go to a charity shop. Worn out cotton, linen, wool or silk clothes are cut up into very small pieces and added to the compost heap.
  • Glass jar and bottles are kept for homemade jams, chutneys, pickles, sauces, cordials and wine.
  • Plastic milk containers and large plastic bottles are filled with water and used in the garden to weigh down weed suppressing membrane and cardboard. When they are no longer needed they will be emptied, crushed and recycled into the council recycling bags.
  • Pots with lids that contained dairy products like yoghurt or cream are kept for portion sized containers to use in the freezer.
  • Egg shells are washed, heated in the microwave for two minutes or baked in the oven (when it's on for something else) to kill off bacteria, crushed and added to the compost bin for very slow release of calcium or put in a jar with vinegar to convert the calcium to a useable form for plants and diluted well before adding to the compost heap. I know that they can be given to the chickens in their grit bowl to add calcium to their diet, I haven't done this as yet, but will if their egg shells start becoming thin.
  • Kitchen waste; vegetable peelings (except for potatoes and citric fruits) go into the compost heap. Cooked foods unless very full of onions or citric or very salty, go to the chickens. We often have little or no food waste to go out to the food recycling bin.
  • Herbs bought at the supermarket, I always by them in pots, they cost the same as cut herbs but I use what I need and then plant the plant into the garden. I wash and reuse the pot to grow something else.
  • Water, we collect rainwater to use in the garden and are looking at ways to recycle our grey water.
  • Wood off-cuts (from putting up shelves and battens for curtains) become kindling or garden markers.
  • String and baling twine are saved and used for a hundred and one purposes in the garden.
  • An old wooden wardrobe which had seen better days and was not good enough to offer to a recycling project has been broken down into panels which we've used to make the front of a compost bin, a shelter for the chickens, the side panel of a reclaimed chicken house. The drawers are being used to separate items waiting to be recycled to the local tip (like broken panes of glass, nails and screws etc.).
  • Tights that have laddered will be used to store cabbages and onions and can easily be hung up in the barn where it's cool, airy and dark.
  • Candles which have burnt down to a small stub are saved as used as firelighters. 
  • Leather belts which are beyond going to the charity shop are saved to use in the garden as tree ties.
  • Fluff from the tumble dryer goes into the compost bin and water from its condensing unit is used to water the garden and flower pots.
  • The contents of the vacuum cleaner bag and sweepings from the hard floors and hair from our hairbrushes go into the compost heap.
Before I throw anything in the bin, I pause for a moment and just think about whether there's another use for it before it goes into the black bin bag. Recycling plastics, glass and metal tins has become habitual and whilst I used to think it was a nuisance to spend time separating everything out, we have now devised an easy system in the kitchen so it takes no time at all.

We are lucky to have a recess next to the chimney breast that is just the right size for a small dresser with three kitchen bins lined up next to it. The non-recyclable rubbish bin (black bin bags) has a swing top lid on it to prevent flies from getting into it, but the two recycling bins are open topped so I can easily drop paper and card into one and plastic, glass and metal into the other. One side of the kitchen sink I have a medium size container that I line with a paper bag for peelings and food waste that will go to the compost bin. Next to it is a small container for food scraps for the chickens and on the other side of the sink is a small lidded container for food waste that can't go into the compost or to the chickens. There is a small plastic tub by the sink for washed egg shells as I sterilise these in batches.

It takes us no longer to put items into one bin or another, the only thing that takes more effort is to think about how we can reuse something and to wash plastic containers out before they go into the recycling bags (this prevents flies being attracted to it). Looking back at my wastefulness in the past, I feel a bit ashamed about just how much I sent to landfill, but that was also partly the way of the world - instant, fast and disposable. I was less informed, less aware and less in touch with my immediate and wider environment. 

I don't know if the little bit that we do to reduce our own impact on the environment will help reduce pollution levels, save energy and other resources, but I am sure that by all of us doing our little bit there will be a reduction in the negative impact we are having on our world. I also know that we are spending less on buying bits and pieces for our home as we save and reuse things, and we both enjoy seeing less going out of our bank accounts each month.

Another day I will look at how we recycle and reuse items from the yard and garden. If you have any other ideas for household items that can be reused or recycled in our homes, please leave a comment and let me know.


  1. Hello there. Just caught up on your last few blogs. Everything seems to coming on in leaps and bounds, you must be so proud of what you have achieved. Well done. Sheila x

    1. Thank you Sheila, some days it feels like we have done loads and others days not so much, but we are trundling along in the right direction. Tomorrow brings another excitement which I will write about once it's happened.
      Kindest, Liz x

  2. An interesting, and informative, post. You really do well and certainly better than me with what you do. Flighty xx


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