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How good are you at recycling? If you live in Wales, chances are you’re pretty good because as a nation we are currently the third best in the world.
Welsh households currently recycle 63% of their waste, with only Singapore and Germany ahead of us in the world recycling rankings.
However, we still have a long way to go to reach the top spot.
We are still throwing away tonnes of rubbish that could easily be recycled.
As a family, I like to think we are doing our best. We reduce, we reuse, and we recycle as much as we can. Every glass bottle or jar, plastic container or piece of paper makes its way to our green recycling bag, and we always put food waste in our food bin.
But there’s always room for improvement. So when the Welsh Government challenged us to reassess our recycling habits as part of its Be Mighty, Recycle campaign we were keen to accept.
Be Mighty, Recycle officially launches next week as part of national Recycle Week, which runs from Monday 21 to Sunday 27 September.
Wales has made good progress over the past 10 years in improving recycling targets, increasing kerbside collections and reducing waste, and has the highest recycling rate of all the UK nations.
But there’s still a long way to go. The Welsh Government wants to see Wales at the top of that international recycling chart and has pinpointed three areas where we could do better, namely recycling bathroom waste, food waste, and paper and cardboard.
I’ll be talking more about those three areas later, as well as how we recycle as a family of five, a few things we’ve picked up from reassessing our recycling, plus some of our top tips for managing recycling in our home.
Lockdown has meant people spending more time in their homes, meaning more household waste has been generated. Now more than ever we need to be recycling everything we can.
Know what can and can’t be recycled in your area
Like most people, we are fully aware of the obvious items that can be recycled such as paper, plastic bottles and tin cans, but every so often we come across items that we’re just not sure what to do with.
The Wales Recycles website is a great resource as to what can and can’t be recycled in each region of Wales. We use this resource a lot when we’re not sure – for example, we recently shredded a pile of old documents and were pleased to see that, in Cardiff, shredded paper can be recycled but it needs to go in its own recycling bag.
Have a recycling bin in your bathroom
A couple of years ago, a friend told me they have a small recycling bin in their bathroom as well as a waste bin, and it struck me as such a good idea that we adopted it ourselves. Our bathroom doesn’t generally generate much waste, but it does have its fair share of recycling. Having a dedicated bin means recyclable material won’t get accidentally put in with the waste or left on the bathroom or landing floor until someone remembers to take it downstairs to the recycling bin.
The items that make it into our bathroom recycling bin are empty toilet roll tubes, toothpaste boxes, plastic shampoo and shower gel bottles (we buy a lot of package-free shampoo bars and soap but we still have the odd few bottles); cleaning fluid bottles, and aerosols.
Bathroom recycling is one of the Welsh Government’s priority areas as part of the new campaign. If everyone in the UK recycled one toothpaste box, it would save enough energy to run a fridge in over 2,000 homes for a year.
This handy list details the most common recyclable bathroom items as well as what to do with them. Link with more details here.
- Toothpaste boxes – flatten
- Toilet roll tubes – flatten
- Plastic shampoo and conditioner bottles – empty and rinse items, replace lids/tops
- Shower gel containers – empty and rinse items, replace lids/tops
- Liquid soap bottles – empty, rinse and remove pump dispenser (throw pump into the rubbish bin)
- Bleach bottles – empty, replace lid
- Bathroom cleaners – rinse and replace the trigger spray
- Empty tissue boxes – remove any plastic insert and flatten
- Empty deodorant aerosols and hairspray – ensure empty and remove plastic caps (recycle caps with plastics)
Get your children involved
I realised very early on that getting my children involved in recycling wouldn’t just help them become more environmentally aware and to pick up good recycling habits from an early age, but it also helps me out as a busy working mum, because it becomes a family responsibility, rather than just mine. When our children were really little we’d ask them to put certain items in the recycling bin and they would think it was great fun. Now they’re older, they do it automatically. If there’s an item they’re not sure about, we’ll look it up on the website mentioned above.
Have your food waste bin close to your food preparation area
The good news is that around 80% of people in Wales use their food recycling service. However, the not-so-good news is that almost a quarter of rubbish in Wales is made up of food waste – almost all of which could have been recycled – so it seems not all of us are recycling everything we can. Lockdown has meant people consuming more food at home so it’s even more important that all food waste is being recycled.
Food that is put into the general rubbish bin rots and releases methane, a harmful greenhouse gas. In contrast, most local authorities in Wales send their food waste to an anaerobic digestion facility, where it is turned into renewable energy to power homes and communities. Anaerobic digestion involves the natural breakdown of food into methane and carbon dioxide gas. These gases are then captured and used to generate green electricity to power homes and the local community, thus reducing the need for non-renewable energy.
Just 22 recycled tea bags could power a vacuum cleaner for 10 minutes while 35 could keep the telly powered for an hour. Two recycled banana peels generate enough energy to charge one iPad, while 32 can power the typical home for an hour. Recycling a caddy full of food waste could generate enough electricity to power a fridge for 18 hours or boil a kettle three times.
In fact, between April 2018 and March 2019, Welsh local authorities sent 115,222 tonnes of food waste (a combination of both household and commercial) to anaerobic digestion facilities, which generated enough energy to power more than 8,500 homes for a year.
It’s really worth making food recycling a priority in our homes.
The Welsh Government says this is the area where can make the biggest impact on Wales’ recycling rate, as well as directly tackling climate change.
Cooked and uncooked inedible food waste including vegetable and fruit peelings, teabags, coffee grounds, egg shells, bones and food scraps can all be placed in your food caddy in every local authority in Wales.
Small amounts of cooking oil can be included within food waste collections, and in many local authorities, larger amounts can be taken to local recycling areas.
We keep our green plastic food caddy, lined with decomposable food bags, right next to the area where we prepare most of our food, so the waste goes straight in. When it’s full, we put the green bag into the brown outside food caddy, ready for collection.
Food recycling is another area our children are well-practised in. We have encouraged them from a very young age to put their own banana peelings and apple cores and so on straight in the food caddy and not in the rubbish bin.
Flatten larger cardboard boxes to save space
I’m sure we’re not the only family who found the amount of paper and cardboard in our house increased during lockdown. Printing out home learning resources, packaging from online orders… it all added up. But nationwide, not all our paper and card is being recycled. Newspapers, magazines, envelopes, paper, cardboard boxes and packaging can all be recycled, Larger boxes can be flattened to save space and packaging tape should be removed first. Larger cardboard boxes can be flattened to save space – again, something my children love doing. For cardboard boxes that are too big for you recycling bags or boxes, see the Wales Recycles website on what to do. The advice in Cardiff is that bigger boxes can be out on the street as long as they are dry and flat packed. It’s hard to recycle wet card so if it is likely to rain before your next collection, break the card up into smaller pieces and put inside the recycling bag or take it to your local recycling centre.
Does your family recycle everything they can? How do you encourage your children to recycle? Do share your recycling top tips in the comments below, comment on the Cardiff Mummy Says Facebook page, tweet me on @cardiffmummy or see my posts on the Cardiff Mummy Says Instagram channel.
Learn more about the Be Mighty, Recycle campaign here.