Yet it takes far less energy to recycle old cans, say, into new ones. Recycling aluminium, for example can save 95 % of the energy used to extract the raw metal. Recycling paper can cut energy consumption at paper-making plants by 40%. And everything that is recycled isn't dumped in landfill.
So the simple act of recycling or reusing rather than dumping can help save the planet. Your new mantra should be: reduce, reuse, recycle.
A State of Mind
The facts speak for themselves: up to 60 per cent of the rubbish we throw in the dustbin could be recycled. On average, 16 per cent of the money you spend on a product pays for the packaging, which ultimately ends up as rubbish. In fact we throw so much away that it would fill Lake Windermere to the brim in just a few months. Rubbish that isn’t buried is often burned in incinerators – which create pollution.
Fortunately recycling has never been easier. And your first step towards a waste-free life is simple: Think about recycling. Before you dump that item in your bin, stop and think. Can it be recycled? And make sure your whole family is aware of the possibilities. Reducing, reusing and recycling is a state of mind.
To Bin is a Sin
So now you are “waste-aware”, but what can you do about it? Many local councils now collect glass, metal, paper and garden waste for recycling. Yet even if your council doesn't, that shouldn't stop you trying.
First, get yourself some small bins for each material and label them clearly. Then every time you or anyone in your family throws something away, check to see if you can recycle it. When the recycling bins are full, empty them at a local recycling centre. Your council will have a list of the sites closest to your home.
How do you know what can be recycled? Again your local council will be able to advise you. Or just check the labels on the containers at the recycling centre.
And don’t forget to recycle old vegetable peelings or food. Get yourself a compost bin – there are designs to suit every kind of garden. In fact as much as half of household waste in the average dustbin could be composted. It’s not just food, but things like cardboard and paper too.
Reduce the waste
Your next step is to try to reduce waste at source. For instance, when you visit the shops, try to buy products that come in packaging that can be recycled – glass, metal, paper or cardboard containers are obvious choices. You should be able to tell if a product is eco-friendly by looking on its label – look for the recycling triangle.
Try to reduce the amount of packaging you get – buy fruit and vegetables in bags rather than pre-packaged. And try to buy products in recycled packaging or that have been made from other recycled materials.
Try to Reuse
Recycling isn't just about rubbish. What happens to that old TV or computer that you plan to throw out? How about your child’s bicycle that’s serviceable but just too small? Rather than dumping old items like these at the local tip, if they still work and are safe why not pass them on to someone who could reuse them?
Charity shops are an obvious place to offer unwanted items. Or sign up to a group called Freecycle – a network of groups across the world that swap unwanted objects for free via the internet. And if you think an item is worth something, try selling it on eBay, via the local paper, or with a note in the local newsagent’s window.
Take the Oath
If you’re really keen to help the planet, think about changing your lifestyle completely. A new movement called the Compactors promise to reuse and recycle, make stuff, buy used, give away free stuff, get free stuff, borrow, barter and trade. The idea is to "counteract the negative global and environmental and socio-economic impacts of the consumer culture, to resist global corporations, and to support local businesses, farms." On the personal level Compactors also try to "reduce clutter and waste" in their homes. And if you must buy new, you're encouraged to shop locally, especially for food. Their guidelines are not rigid, they say. The idea is simply to give more thought to our material needs and the impact that our consumption has on the planet.