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Reduce, Recycle, Re-use & Now Re-think


Blue, green, yellow and red bins on stand near footpath in park.


There are 3 new Rs out there to replace Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic and of course they are Reduce, Recycle and Re-use.

Wherever you live, you need to be aware of what you can and cannot re-cycle as putting something into a recycling bin that then contaminates the whole load can mean that much of your carefully separated waste ends up on landfill anyway.

Most of the time I live in South Africa but over the past few months I have spent time in England and California and it has been interesting to see the different methods of recycling.

In our part of Cape Town, we don’t yet have municipal collections for recycling but it will come. So there is no designated blue or green wheelie bin that you can fill and put out every second week. Each household is responsible for their own and recycling has become a way of making money for many charities and schools.

  • At the end of my street, is a school with a well organized re-cycling depot complete with live-in janitor who keeps an eye on the whole set up, helps people where necessary and generally makes sure the area is clean. I am sure the income generated covers his wages and more. There are massive bins clearly labelled ensuring you put everything in the right place.
  • They don't take batteries, light bulbs or empty printer cartridges but next door is a shopping center which does.
  • They also don't take cardboard but if you leave this on top of your wheelie bin on refuse day, homeless people come and take it away and exchange for cash from a cardboard collection facility.
  • In my garage, I have hung 3 of those large blue Ikea bags on hooks on one wall to collect glass, plastic and paper with small bags for the bulbs, batteries and printer cartridges. Then as soon as one bag is full, I take a walk down to the school to empty it.
  • All my kitchen waste goes into the garden compost bin.

So my system is working well.

Contaminating a whole load of recycling by adding one incorrect item

  • Frozen-food boxes are one of the most common items in any household fridge and look just like paper. But this kind of packaging is wasted on the paper bin as it has been coated with wax or plastic and can't be recycled.
  • Aluminium foil is another “no, no” because it damages recycling companies' machines.
  • Glass remains the most eco-friendly storage item as it can be recycled "forever", unlike plastic which downgrades to a point where it cannot be recycled any more.

Contaminated waste is one of the main reasons recyclable material ends up as landfill - for example one disposable diaper will soil an entire bin because the rest of the contents are no longer hygienic to recycle. But that doesn't mean your food, drink and toiletries packaging must be scrubbed clean – a simple rinse is sufficient.

But there is a 4th R and that is Re-think

  • We urgently need to rethink the way we sustain ourselves and become more aware of how our food and goods are made and packaged.
  • We need to be conscious about whether it is really necessary to constantly upgrade everything in our lives to the latest version.
  • We need to buy goods with the least amount of packaging.

Recycling should actually be the last resort

A few extra tips about recycling of which you might not be aware...
  • Use a composting tumbler. Unlike traditional bins, a tumbler's rotatable design is a faster way of distributing heat within organic waste and turning it into garden gold.
  • Don't send your organic waste to a landfill, where it releases greenhouse gases, leaches into the soil and contaminates otherwise recoverable material.
  • Don't accept items like plastic spoons, paper napkins and salt sachets at fast-food outlets.
  • Don't choose items with complicated packaging. Look for more easily recyclable alternatives.

November 15 was America Recycles Day. If you want take your own recycling a step further, there is an application you can download from EPA – The United States Environmental Protection Agency - that calculates how much energy you are saving by the recycling you and your family are carting out.

Fun and educational for parents and children alike and called iWARM, the app translates the total energy savings from recycling the materials you choose into an equivalent amount of electricity. The tool then tells you how long you could run a variety of household appliances using that amount of electricity and shows the results in a graph. Here is the link.