Refresh your thinking about recycling

By Matt Viner, SRA Volunteer

It’s Recycle Week, and in true fashion here are some words from somewhere else: (not really, that’d be too easy!).

In the UK and indeed elsewhere all across the globe, human beings require trickery and incentives to change the simplest habits. Oh, this isn’t true? Stop picking yoursquare peg round hole nose then (errghhh). This is why we dedicate weeks, that’s 2% of a year pretty much, to encouraging us to make some incredibly easy alterations to our day-to-day activities. If only there was a week for “come on, really? It’s 2015, let’s act like it” but I guess it would be too hard to orchestrate. What we do have though are lots of little weeks which, more or less, add up to the same thing. This week it’s recycling – otherwise known as, placing objects in the right bin, sort of like that game you played as a nipper when you put the right shapes into the matching shaped holes – but easier. If you’re reading this you probably used to nail that game and manage the simplified grown-up version as it is. So rather than preach at the choir, here’s some interesting things I found out from working for a recycling company for a year (I actually really did this).

Wood is a pest. Recycling wood is pretty niche, there are few small companies out there that’ll turn it into chip-board, but unlike its cousin, paper, wood makes rubbish books (just imagine the size of it). First then, don’t throw your wooden cutlery in recycling – not even organic waste – although there does exist biodegradable cutlery, look it up if reusable isn’t an option. If you’ve got a fire, saving those smaller bits of wood for kindling is probably already second nature, if not then it should be. But for the larger items you might have (like pallets), get creative and put your DIY skills to the test. Pallets are standardised, so a few means you’ve got plenty of wood planks with the same dimensions, making things like boxes super easy. If boxes are too easy try a table, a bench, a standing flower bed or other things often made of wood. Points to whoever makes a whole shed.

winno Food wasteFood is heavy. Unlike paper, which is light work for those that are picking it up. Paper also handily turns back into paper, saving trees – which this is all about really. Food’s more like wood though, it makes awful paper (though I’m sure it’s possible, I once had a pad made from elephant dung!). It’s also heavy, probably something to do with all that water trapped inside it. There’s a link here about throwing away food and it being heavy – if there is a carbon value per gram of something (which there is) then something with more grams is worse, right? This is pretty basic. Whilst putting food in organic waste for composting or anaerobic digestion is good, eating it is better. This isn’t recycling, unless it is. Use your leftovers, save it till later, give to someone else. Just because you have a green office with food recycling, doesn’t mean you need to fill that bin. It’s an inanimate object, it is not hungry.

Not throwing stuff away is cheaper. This is obvious isn’t it? Yet, people throw away jam jars still (why?!) and certainly in this country we toss beer bottles in the recycling daily. Whilst this is recycling week and therefore all about encouraging recycling, it’s probably about time we focussed more on upcycling. If recycling is using a product’s material in another product then upcycling is making something better out of what you had before – like a coffee table out of pallets (assuming these weren’t stolen from their actual use). It’s not just pallets and jam jars that can serve a better purpose than being smashed into becoming something else. How do you upcycle something? It’s simple, you go to google, type the word “upcycled” and then the name of the item (ie. beer bottle). I got beer bottle glasses – chop the top off and tada, easy glass that matters very little if smashed! It costs money to throw things away, but there’s fun ways to hold onto a lot of stuff. Sure, it’s not always possible but honestly, what did you last upcycle? I made a clock from an old watch by using bluetac – but do you have a clock in your shower?

Homeless people sometimes steal your unwanted cardboard. A customer calls in, the cardboard left outside for collection ended up somewhere down the road and now it’s sitting out in the middle of the day. This certainly draws attention to the problems different people in our society face – sure it’s an inconvenience that the cardboard was somewhere else, but having to pinch cardboard and use it as a mattress/home is a despicable problem in 2015. Surely it’d be better to employ those without jobs to collect cardboard and drop it off afterwards in return for a financial reward. We can only hope. Anyway, I’ve certainly digressed – the point I’m attempting to make, however indirectly, is that the old adage is true that one man’s waste is another’s treasure. Yes, recycle, for the love of God recycle and for your children and theirs too, but before that see if there’s anyone that could use your waste as it is. This is especially true for clothes, which I’m sure is fairly obvious.

Paper has two sides. Everyone at a time has printed something with a typo, or printed too many copies, or accidently used comic sans for a proposal (no? oh?). What happens next in this scenario? You feel a pang of guilt, and slip the paper into recycling – hey ho, it’ll be paper again. Or, you pop it in the scrap paper tray, next to the printer safe in the knowledge you’ve only messed up 50% of that resource. When you eat a Twix stick you typically eat the other one too right? Somehow this doesn’t always happen with paper though. Which makes your paper twice the price you paid for it! This isn’t rocket science, I realise, but that’s the whole point really – if we implement just a moment of engaging brain before bin then we’ll throw less stuff away, which means we can make less stuff, save more money and make just a little difference to this vast battle we face in keeping this blue dot of ours an inhabitable place for humans.

This is my last blog for the SRA, I will soon be leaving the UK and though the internet connects us all it’s time for someone else to pick up this mantle (think Batman passing on the cowl). So, without further ado and as my old friend Porky would say, that’s all folks!


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