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RECYCLING - The Recycling - Our goal is to help your organisation to maximise recycling

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Recycling involves processing used materials into new products in order to prevent waste of potentially useful materials, reduce the consumption of fresh raw materials, reduce energy usage, reduce air pollution (from incineration) and water pollution (from landfilling) by reducing the need for "conventional" waste disposal, and lower greenhouse gas emissions as compared to virgin production. Recycling is a key component of modern waste management and is the third component of the "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" waste hierarchy

The international recycling symbol.

The international recycling symbol.

Recyclable materials include many kinds of glass, paper, metal, plastics, textiles, and electronicsAluminum (e.g., cell phones and computers). Although similar in effect, the composting or other reuse of biodegradable waste – such as food or garden waste – is not typically considered recycling. Materials to be recycled are either brought to a collection center or picked up from the curbside, then sorted, cleaned, and reprocessed into new materials bound for manufacturing.

In a strict sense, recycling of a material would produce a fresh supply of the same material, for example used office paper to more office paper, or used foamed polystyrene to more polystyrene. However, this is often difficult or too expensive (compared with producing the same product from raw materials or other sources), so "recycling" of many products or materials involves their reuse in producing different materials (e.g., cardboard) instead. Another form of recycling is the salvage of certain materials from complex products, either due to their intrinsic value (e.g., lead from car batteries, or gold from computer components), or due to their hazardous nature (e.g., removal and reuse of mercury from various items).

Critics of recycling claim that it often wastes more resources than it saves, especially in cases where it is mandated by government. Note here that municipal recycling may nevertheless still be worthwhile if the net cost is less than the landfill or other disposal costs for the same amount of material.



 A recycling bin at a park in northern California.

A recycling bin at a park in northern California.


Trade in recyclates


Certain countries trade in unprocessed recyclates. Some have complained that the ultimate fate of recyclates sold to another country is unknown and they may end up in landfill instead of reprocessed. According to one report, in America, 50-80% of computers destined for recycling are actually not recycled. However, Pieter van Beukering, an economist specialising in waste imports of China and India, believes that it is unlikely that bought materials would merely be dumped in landfill: he also claims that the import of recyclates allows for large-scale reprocessing, improving both the fiscal and environmental return through economies of scale.There are reports of illegal-waste imports to China being dismantled and recycled solely for monetary gain, without consideration for workers' health or environmental damage. Though the Chinese government has banned these practices, it has not been able to eradicate them.

Certain regions have difficulty using or exporting as much of a material as they recycle. This problem is most prevalent with glass: both Britain and the U.S. import large quantities of wine bottled in green glass. Though much of this glass is sent to be recycled, outside the American Midwest there is not enough wine production to use all of the reprocessed material. The extra must be downcycled into building materials or re-inserted into the regular waste stream.

Similarly, the northwestern United States has difficulty finding markets for recycled newspaper, given the large number of pulp mills in the region as well as the proximity to Asian markets. In other areas of the U.S., however, demand for used newsprint has seen wide fluctuation.

In some U.S. states, a program called RecycleBank pays people with coupons to recycle, receiving money from local municipalities for the reduction in landfill space which must be purchased. It uses a single stream process in which all material is automatically sorted.


Computers being collected for recycling at a pickup event in Olympia, Washington, United States.

Computers being collected for recycling at a pickup event in Olympia, Washington, United States.

There are three key factors when thinking about how to recycle:


Recycling Different Materials

You can find out how to recycle different materials such as Glass, Batteries and Mobile Phones by simply using our list on the right hand side.


Recycling Etiquette

Recycling can sometimes be confusing and it can be difficult to know whether you are following all the right rules. Improve your recycling efforts by learning some recycling etiquette rules and check out which type of collection is best and why different areas recycle and collect in different ways.

What's in your Rubbish Bin?

A large percentage of UK household's still do not recycle enough and throw everything that they consider 'rubbish' into their ordinary bin. Much of this waste can be recycled and should be disposed of separately to general household waste. Look inside this rubbish bin to see how much of the contents should actually have been recycled. Check our list on the right to see how to recycle different materials.

rubbish bin diagram

 Recycling tips

There are lots of innovative things you can do to help reduce your rubbish – check out some of the tips below to get started.

Making use of your mountain of plastic bags:

  • Use them as bin liners.
  • Place them in the bottom of plant pots and hanging baskets - they act as great drainage systems.
  • Children can use them for carrying PE gear to school.
  • Scrunch them up to surround items when you're packaging as an alternative to bubble wrap.
  • Use them in the garden to hold your grass cuttings and hedge trimmings before transfer to a compost bin.
  • Use them when packing for a holiday to keep dirty/wet clothes and shoes away from dry clothing.
  • Use them as 'doggy doo bags' when out walking your dog!
  • Some supermarkets recycle plastic bags, so you can return plastic bags to them.
  • Re-use washed zip lock bags for sandwiches and snacks rather than using plastic wrap.

Ideas for recycling paper:

  • After children's drawings and paintings have been displayed for a while they can be used to wrap presents - this also makes the present special.
  • Discarded A4-sized paper can be cut and stapled together to make notepads. Alternatively, if you save five reams, it will cost you about $5 to get a print company to convert this paper into 'proper' notepads.
  • 'Use the envelopes you receive in the mail a second time by placing a new address label over the last address. I call this the OMT System ("One more time system"). Old envelopes can also be used for scribbling down shopping lists, to-do lists, and notes.'
  • Resealable envelopes can be reused many times: 'My daughter takes one to school when she orders her lunch. The envelope has all details written in felt on the front and the money sealed inside. She brings the envelope home and we use it again until it gets too shabby.'
  • Old calendars, colourful pictures, etc. can be used to make your own envelopes. You can unstick a used envelope and use it as a template for making envelopes.
  • Old rolls of wallpaper can be used for childrens' drawings.
  • Junk mail can be used as scrap paper, or as bedding for pets.
  • Cardboard cartons can be used to collect paper for recycling, instead of plastic bags (even breakfast cereal cartons are good).
  • SPCA and pet shops appreciate old newspapers.
  • Toilet roll centres can be recycled - they're made of cardboard.
  • To fill in a rainy day get a paper recycling kit and get the kids to rip up old used paper to make recycled paper, it can be great fun.
  • Old magazines are appreciated by:
    • Doctor and dentists' surgeries
    • Motels
    • Friends

Ideas for recycling household waste in the garden:

  • Aluminium trays from pies and cakes make ideal 'drip saucers' to put under pot plants.
  • Old tyres can be used outside for plant pots - especially good for plants that like warm soils as they trap the heat.
  • The following waste items can be modified and used for planting seedlings:
    • Egg cartons
    • Tetra-pak cartons
    • Plastic bottles
    • Plastic containers for cherry tomatoes
    • Old boots and shoes
    • Plastic containers for takeaways
    • The cardboard centres from toilet rolls
    • Plastic icecream containers.
  • Lawn clippings can be used to cover weeds and keep from growing in the garden through winter.
  • Broken crockery can be used as drainage at the bottom of pot plants.
  • Tin cans can be used as:
    • Water reservoirs for new plants and trees. Tape a piece of hose pipe in a can and fill the can with scoria or pumice. Then, when you plant a new tree or plant, bury the can below the root level and leave enough hose poking out of the ground. You can water the plant in summer by pouring the water into hose pipe. If the hose is short enough it can be mowed over on a lawn and does not look obtrusive.
    • Pot plant holders. Decorate the outside of the can to your liking, put some soil in it and plant away. (Make sure you put some drainage holes in the bottom of the tin before you start potting the plants.)
  • Old newspapers (including those gathered from your friends) can be used to mulch and weed control the garden. Wet newspaper and place thickly on the garden. Cover with bark or stones.
  • Plastic milk bottles can be used to hold snail bait and are pet proof.
  • Old stockings can be used to tie up plants in the garden.
  • Plastic icecream containers can be cut into strips for seed labels.

Ideas for recycling organic/garden waste:

  • Local pig farmers often appreciate any kitchen scraps that you can offer them. If you know of any in your area, get in touch with them and find out if they are interested in your kitchen scraps.
  • If you've done any trimming of trees and hedges, contact the local Zoo to see if they can use these for their animals, either as food or environment improvement.
  • Avoid using kitchen waste disposers and compost food scraps instead. This reduces the load on sewage treatment plants and local government can concentrate on the treatment of real sewage.
  • If you need leaf mulch for your garden approach a local school and ask what they do with the leaf litter. Some schools throw theirs away.
  • Get a couple of hens for the household. They eat all the kitchen scraps and provide fresh eggs as a bonus.

Ideas for recycling other items:

  • Old or broken household goods such as toasters, transistor radios can be used by others for parts. Sell them cheaply at a garage sale.
  • Carry a supermarket bag with you when you go walking so that you can pick up glass, litter or other plastic bags.
  • Creches, schools and kindergartens often need boxes, plastic bags, old buttons, used wrapping paper, greeting cards, ribbons, tiles, crockery and other materials for art resources. They may also want old phones, keyboards, etc as learning toys. The DonateNZ website provides a way to put donors and recipients in touch with each other.
  • Wrapping paper, bows, ribbons, and boxes can be used to wrap someone else's presents.
  • Recycle jars by using them for home preserves.
  • In Auckland, batteries from toys and other electrical items can be saved and taken to the hazmobile once a year for recycling.
  • Ice cream containers can be reused around the home in a number of ways:
    • Storing food in the freezer
    • As a container for toys, crayons, clothes pegs
    • Biscuit container
  • Meat trays, yoghurt containers, egg cartons, and film canisters can be kept and used by the kids to 'create stuff'. This is a great way to keep the kids amused and even make gifts for family and friends.
  • An upside down bottle with small holes in the top can be used to provide water for your pets while you are on holiday.
  • Materials left over from home sewing can be used by schools for collages. Larger pieces can also be used for patchwork and crafts by people in rest homes. In Wellington (and possibly other centres as well), there is a group in the women's prison who choose to do patchwork as part of their rehabilitation.
  • After you have finished a ’family-size’ yoghurt pot (and since they aren’t recyclable), rinse it out and use it as a lunch box or cookie jar.
  • Use ice cream and other plastic containers to put kids toys in. Also good for nuts and bolts and taking away camping, or clothes peg containers.
  • The black meat trays from the Supermarket make great paint trays for both adults and kids.
  • Stronger plastic bottles can be used to hold tools and nails etc in the shed. Simply cut three sides and leave one side longer and nail to the wall in the shed.
  • Old furniture, clothes, kitchen gear, and bedding are always wanted by organisations like Drug Arm, and the Salvation Army.

General tips for recycling and avoiding rubbish:

  • Buy a smaller rubbish container for the kitchen. This makes you to remember to recycle.
  • Make sure bottles and tins are clean before putting in the recycling bin. This prevents flies both at home and the recycling station.
  • Reorganise the kitchen so it has an efficient recycling area with good sized bins to help with sorting and holding. This will encourage other members of the household to contribute and help share the work instead of it being reliant on one person.
  • Cutting both the tops and the bottoms off tin cans (and placing them inside) and squashing them makes them smaller to fit into the recycling bin.
  • Put a 'no junk mail' sticker on your letter box. You'll be amazed at how much this reduces your rubbish.
  • Spread the word. By telling other people and helping them to get started, we increase the savings that can be made. Also get your children involved – if we can educate them early, they will grow up and appreciate waste reduction and will be able to apply these skills in later life.