Too much Recycling

I think there is a pretty good recycling system where I live, for which I’ve written about before. But I’m one guy living on his own, living by simple means, so how might I compare to others?

Even though I’m living on my own I’m still issued with the same size recycling boxes and general waste bins as everyone else, be it a 4, 6 or 8+ person household (with nappies to contend with). Actually the average household size in the UK is less than 2.5, which surprises me, but I’m sure there would be problems if the council only issued boxes and bins to meet the UK average. Either way I don’t put my bins out every week, I don’t need to, but I can appreciate that a family-sized household would probably need to, and I’m sure there are many that struggle to not have too much rubbish. To test this I specifically I decided not to put out my bins or boxes for 4 weeks (the month of January) to see how much recycling I would accumulate as comparable to a 4-person (two adults, two children) household. Not very scientific I know, but as a rough idea.

Coincidentally a few weeks ago there was talk on the radio (and in the news in general I suspect) that people were starting to actually recycle less, and also councils getting fussy about the cleanliness of the recyclable rubbish. This was explained as partly due to the “hassle” of having to wash and recycle things; it being easier to sling everything in the general waste bin, and also some people thinking it a waste of water to wash everything out; but to me a quick swill of some packaging round the sink at the end of the washing up seems like little bother.

I think I’m pretty well trained when it comes to rubbish and recycling. It might sound… “eww” to not put your rubbish out for four weeks but I need to explain a couple of things:

Being one person, a self-trained adult I might add, I am capable of managing my food well, in that I rarely have food that goes off through not been aware of what’s in my own fridge (I appreciate this can be a challenge in a multi-person household). I know what food I like/what I’ll eat and how much I’m likely to eat on any given day so I don’t over buy or over prepare; there are rarely food scraps on my plate (or anyone else’s if I’m eating with family; ask them, I have hollow legs/I’m a cyclist and I actually despise seeing food left on plates – there are people starving in this world… I could go on). I also rarely buy “meat on-the-bone” so I can avoid that waste.

I try more and more to seek food with minimal packaging, especially the kind that “isn’t currently recycled”, but I do factor in the cost of what I’m buying, and also how far I have to travel to fetch it, since I cycle everywhere. As for plastic bags, like bread bags (although sometimes I bake my own bread), and porridge bags, and some plastic food wrap, I give this back to the supermarket if it’s clean – it bugs me that so much food is wrapped in plastic; even the fruit and veg guy sells cucumbers sheathed in the stuff.

I actually like to avoid using my council-issued food-waste bin since the council gave away some compost bins; therefore I try and ensure my only food waste consists of vegetable stalks, apple cores and banana skins etc, egg shells, tea (some in bags) and ground coffee. I also compost tissue and my own hair, I kid you not. I don’t peel potatoes (most of the nutrients are in there) or carrots, it’s too much of a faff… yay for “rustic mash”.

Therefore, my general waste bin gets little use, as you can imagine.

We also have recycling boxes for paper and cardboard, but I also have a wood-burning stove, so some paper ends up in there (the resulting ash ends up in the garden/compost bin).

What I review here for the purpose of my little experiment is the contents of my ‘blue box’, the one that accepts food cans, plastic bottles and trays, and glass jars.

With all of my above attention I was therefore surprised to find that the contents of my blue box had reached the brim by the end of the four weeks (hence the reason my experiment is about that box).


However, in my defence I will add that, while I do squash down the plastic milk cartons and food cans, everything is gently tossed into the box over the duration of my accumulation, whereas one could compact things down further; it just looked a lot… maybe more so when I spread it all out on the table to take stock of what was actually in there:


Lets review what I had and see where I can improve:

5 x 4-pint plastic milk cartons. So on average I get through 5 pints of milk a week. I have tried buying in a larger quantity at a time but it doesn’t keep long enough. I have also tried using less by using full-fat milk and adding a portion of water for my cereal of choice (porridge), but this seems to be the best I can do.

Food cans. I count 16 or 4 per week. Typically these are generally some tuna, and then baked beans and chopped tomatoes and sometimes mushy peas. I’ve actually recently become concerned by the canned vegetables for their added sugar content; I consider tomatoes to be a sweet fruit so it boggles my mind to think of why for some “they” add sugar, the same goes for the baked beans in tomato sauce, especially when the labelling implies they’re healthy with their “5 a day” badges. I’ve cut my sugar intake down a lot over the years, from a couple of teaspoons in each hot beverage to only one in coffee, to either none, a hint, or honey in tea. I usually use sultanas to sweeten my porridge. It seems these canned foods are the next consideration but they do form a portion of my “prepping” [more on that via a link below].

There were some plastic food trays, namely for minced meat, bacon and chicken/turkey fillets. Often such meat I only buy when it’s reduced priced and this generally gives me a moral dilemma; ie which is worse, sausages in a plastic bag that gets thrown away, or those in a plastic tray that can be recycled but wrapped over with film that cannot?

There are a few glass jars, a plastic bottle once containing a year’s supply of shower gel, one once containing orange squash, and a margarine tub.

There are a few shameful things, although these turned out to be few and far between and less than I thought there would be; a plastic tray once holding sausage rolls, and a plastic box once holding two muffins. Also a plastic tray once holding mushrooms, again reduced (I usually buy them loose at the market). There’s also a couple of foil food trays once containing “ready meals” that I don’t normally buy, and a polystyrene tray once supporting a pizza. I think the worst was a pot containing noodles; it’s a substantial pot that could be microwaved (type 5, not normally recyclable but I stuck it in there). All these things were reduced-priced. Sometimes there would be a large yoghurt pot but it turns out there wasn’t any reduced-priced yoghurt on offer this month (I avoid the tiddly-little pots).

There were also a couple of other trays that I’ve taken out to grow seeds in, and clear ones to cover seeds with… why would anyone buy plastic seed trays?! And a tray from a Christmas selection box (they’re terrible aren’t they?! and we have Easter coming up next and all the excessively packaged egg-shaped chocolate that comes with it…yay!).

I always consider plastic to be worse than glass and metal, when it comes to throwing things away and even recycling; as a consumer we are somewhat in the dark about what energy costs are involved in recycling each of these materials, which is the only way of truly comparing and ultimately deciding which foods we should buy when making ethical and mindful choices regarding the packaging it is supplied in.

So, how do you think I did? How do you compare? Where can I, you, we, do better?


Post on “Preppping”:

A previous post on recycling:

And another:

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