If you are anything like me (when I say me I mean my husband) then you wait until the recycling bin is overflowing and you are tripping over it in the kitchen before you take it out. It’s the job that everyone loves to hate and I love to hate him for not doing it.
But what actually happens to our recycling in the UK? A recent National Audit Office report into the UK packaging waste system shed some not so complimentary facts on how we recycle over here. The report revealed that a large percentage of our packaging may not actually be recycled and claims that we have underlying recycling issues that the Government has not faced up to. This includes the fact that the Government has no evidence that the system has encouraged companies to minimise packaging or make it easy to recycle. The report also states that the UK relies on exporting materials to other parts of the world (as do many other countries) without adequate checks to ensure that the packaging is actually recycled.
The issue is complicated, but we’ve been exporting a lot of our waste packaging to China on the premise that it would be recycled. The problem was that the stuff we were sending was not always good quality which meant often it was getting dumped in landfill. China of course said enough was enough and put bans on certain materials being exported, a lot of it plastic. This means we now have to find somewhere else to ship our recyclate. Poland, Vietnam and Thailand, to name a few, came to the rescue but now they can’t cope with the influx of packaging landing on their shores and have put their own embargoes in place. Unfortunately, we don’t currently have the capacity to recycle the tonnes of material in the UK and there have been reports in the media of plastic being stockpiled or going to landfill.
This means just like my recycling bin at home we are now having to deal with more waste than before and plastic is taking the brunt of the criticism due to its long lasting damaging effects on our land, seas and health. This is the reason why I and so many other people in the UK are on a mission to reduce the amount of packaging (recyclable or not) that we consume. In the spirit of sharing here are 10 easy swaps to make at home to drastically reduce the amount of household waste you dispose of:
1. Always take reusable bags whenever you go shopping. Keep them by the door, in your coat pocket or in your car or handbag so that you don’t forget them.
2. Make your own bread. Alternatively, pop to your local bakery and try and get your hands on an unpackaged loaf.
3. Shop local; butchers, markets, greengrocers, ask if they are happy to fill your reusable containers.
4. Use beeswax wraps instead of clingfilm or foil, use a plate to cover food cooking in the microwave and plastic containers to store food in the fridge.
5. Buy loose fruit and vegetables instead of pre-packaged and pop in a reusable produce bag.
6. Always use a reusable water bottle when out and about and keep a glass bottle of tap water in the fridge instead of buying bottled water for home.
7. Try your hand at home composting. Lots of things can be included in this such as certain food waste, tea (watch the bags that contain plastic), coffee and some paper/cardboard along with some plastic-free items such as reusable cotton rounds and cloths.
8. Where possible choose plastic-free alternatives and refills such as bar shampoo and soap, refillable cleaning products do exist for laundry detergent, hand wash, anti-bacterial spray, shampoo and conditioner – this list goes on. Not everyone is lucky enough to live near a refill shop but more are popping up to respond to consumer demand.
9. Switch paper towels for reusable kitchen roll and buy plastic-free sponges and washing up brushes (many can be home composted) or reusable sponges and cloths.
10. Be mindful - is there a more sustainable alternative to the product you want to buy and is it feasible for you to switch to it?
Now I know from personal experience that implementing these changes into your household takes time, you have to do your research, find products that actually work, suit your lifestyle and are convenient and not too costly.
Start small and simple. Social media is a great place to get some inspiration with people sharing tips and tricks on platforms such as Instagram. You never know one day taking the recycling out might be an enjoyable job because there’s nothing left in it. You may instead be fighting over who has to turn the compost instead.