Your Planet: New life for old

The secret of producing less waste is to recycle - but what precisely does that involve? Kate Finnigan picks her way through the contents of her dustbin and presents a beginner's guide to recycling absolutely everything



Why bother?

According to
www.wasteonline., in 2003-04, 1.3 million tons were collected for recycling in England. That still leaves around five million tons going straight to landfill. Considering that every ton of recycled paper saves enough energy to power a three-bedroom house for a year, that's some waste...

Recycling paper reduces the amount of natural forest being turned into managed tree plantations leading to loss of tree species diversity, wildlife habitats and ecosystems. Producing recycled paper needs less energy and water consumption. It produces fewer polluting emissions to air and water because it's not usually re-bleached and also reduces disposal problems.

What happens to it?
Recycled paper collected by local authorities is sent to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) where it's separated into different types using mechanical equipment, magnets and lasers.

The paper is cleaned, mulched and made into huge rolls. Recycled paper is often used to make newsprint, office paper and packaging. It may be re-engineered into powder or long fibres and used for loft insulation or to improve the performances of paints or road surfaces. Cardboard is turned back into packaging. But paper can't be recycled indefinitely. Some amount of virgin wood pulp has to be added to the process as fibres weaken.

Do it now
Set your printer to double print, so you're using both sides of the paper.
Put a "no junk mail" sign on your letterbox and contact The Mailing Preference Service ( and the Direct Marketing Association ( to reduce unwanted advertising.
Make a scrap pad out of unwanted paper for shopping lists and telephone messages.

Why bother?
Households are the biggest source of plastic waste. Every year, an estimated 17 billion plastic bags are given away by supermarkets - around 290 bags for every person in the UK! But recycling household plastics isn't an easy task.

Just over half of local authorities offer some form of plastic bottle collection service. On top of this, different plastics require separate recycling - in some instances, this still has to be done manually. Yet the advantages of recycling plastic are clear: conservation of fossil fuels, reduced consumption of energy and the amount of waste in landfill, as well as a decrease in emissions of greenhouse gases.

What happens to it?
Through various complicated processes, different plastics can be recycled and used to make new products - bin liners and carrier bags, PVC sewer pipes, window frames, insulation, CD cassette cases, garden furniture, composters and fleeces - to name a few.

Buying recycled products supports the market for recycled products without which, there's no reason for anything to be recycled. The Government has set up the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) to promote sustainable waste management by creating markets for recycled materials.

Do it now:
Choose a lunchtime sandwich with no packaging.
Re-use your shopping bags and don't accept a bag if you don't need one. Recycle them at collection banks at Morrison's and Tesco.

Why bother?
Unlike paper, glass can be recycled infinitely without any compromise in quality. The UK has the technology capability to recycle over a million tons of glass each year, yet we only recycle 38 per cent. A family in the UK gets through about 330 glass bottles and jars per year - nearly one a day! Recycling reduces the demand for raw materials - for every ton of recycled glass used, 1.2 tons of raw materials are preserved and saves energy. You could power a TV for 20 minutes on the energy saved by recycling a single glass bottle.

b>What happens to it?
If you don't have a kerbside collection service, there are now around 50,000 bottle banks around the country. Glass collection companies or reprocessors pay local authorities by the ton for the glass "cullet". This goes to the plant where it's monitored for purity and contaminants are removed. It's crushed melted and mixed with sand, soda, ash and limestone and moulded into new bottles or jars.

Glass cullet is also used in the road laying material glasphalt which contains 30% recycled glass. Mixed and coloured glass can be used to filter water in swimming pools, replace sand on golf courses and in loft insulation.

Do it now:
Reusing is better than recycling. Use your glass jars and bottles for storing nuts and rice - or nails and paper clips. Tea lights in jars make pretty outdoor lighting. Find your nearest bottle bank at

Why bother?
According to the government's Environment Agency each year around one million tons of waste electronic and electrical equipment (WEEE) is dumped in the UK by domestic and commercial users.

As consumer items - fridges, washing machines, TVs computers and entertainment systems - become more shortlived, out of date equipment is being chucked. WEEE is increasing by around 80,000 tons each year. Incidentally, how many i-Pods have you bopped your way through by now?

White goods make up 43 per cent of WEEE. TV sets are also a high proportion - around two million are discarded each year. The complex nature of these products - their varied parts and complex production process - entails environmental damage through mining, transport, water and energy use and employs large quantities of raw materials. To consign them to the landfill before their shelf life is up and even afterwards is inescapably irresponsible.

What happens to it
Waste collection authorities are now obliged to collect unwanted bulky items like fridges, although they can charge a collection fee.

They'll then be taken to a fridge recycling plant where the ozone-depleting substances are extracted and the metal is melted down.

From June 2006 a new European directive will put the collection and recycling of waste electronic and electrical equipment down to the manufacturers and retailers. So when your washing machine, TV or hi-fi dies its final death, Curry's will have to come and pick it up...

Do it now:
Donate something. Furniture recycling projects will pass working items (cookers, fridges, vacuum cleaners, sofas) onto low-income families. Contact the Furniture Reuse Network ( or telephone 0117 954 3571) for an organisation near you

Take that old coffee maker to your local civic amenity site - also known as: the dump - where it can be added to other scrap for recycling. But don't make a special journey in the car or you'll cancel out the energy you're saving.

Why bother?
IT equipment makes up 39 per cent of WEEE. Much of this is computers, which rapidly become out of date. According to a UN study, the manufacture of a new computer and monitor uses 240kg of fossil fuels, 22kg of chemicals and 1500 litres of water - similar quantities are used to manufacture an average car.

Although the market for refurbished computers has increased by 500 per cent since 1996, less than 20 per cent of UK computers are recycled.

What happens to them?
As well as second-hand and charity shops, there are also a number of community computer re-use projects in the UK which will transfer redundant computers into the community or developing countries. If your computer is not quite up to scratch, refurbishers may take it to re-use the parts.

Computer Aid International requires many computer parts and peripherals including mice, modems and keyboards. Contact them on 0207 281 0091 /

In 2003, 14,000 tons of inkjet and toner cartridges ending up in landfill. Refilling ink jet cartridges can be done on a DIY basis but it's also possible to send cartridges away for refilling or to buy refilled cartridges. Toner cartridges can't be refilled, but most types can be remanufactured. Consult the manufacturer for details. For every suitable laser ink jet cartridge received, LaserXchange (01873 859901/ will donate £2.50 to a charity, and £1 for every inkjet cartridge.

Do it now:
Upgrade. Don't buy new.
Give your old computer or printer to or for a database of local IT recycling organisations

Why bother?
Rechargeable batteries and LCD displays have toxic components. And with upgrades on perfectly functional phones offered every 12 months, there are now said to be over 20 million redundant mobile phones in the UK at the moment.

Recycling hasn't caught on because we consumers believe they may be worth something. But they're not worth anything lying in a drawer. So do something more beneficial with them instead...

What happens to them?
Fonebak operates in mobile phone stores to take back unwanted phones and recycle them, donating the money to charities. Action Aid, Oxfam and Scope, to name a few charities, will also collect unwanted mobile phones.

The handsets are refurbished if possible and sold to eastern European and African countries where communication infrastructure is poor. Each working donated handset is worth at least £5 to a charity.

Do it now:
Give your old mobile to a friend or relative
Take your old phone back to the retailer

Why bother?
The UK is dumping up to 900,000 tons of textiles per year. Most of that comes not from industry but from households and at least half are recyclable.

Synthetic products in a landfill won't decompose - woollen garments will and produce methane, contributing to global warming. By recycling or recovering garments and textiles, we are reducing the pressure on our resources, importing fewer materials and generally making the atmosphere less toxic.

What happens to them?
There are numerous ways to dispose of clothes and textiles responsibly: recycling banks, jumble sales, charity shops - even Ebay extends the life of a garment.

Oxfam's Wastesaver sells 100 tonnes of unwearable garments to the recycling industry per week - they will go on to become filler for car insulation, roofing felts and furniture padding. TRAID (Textile Recycling for Aid and International Development) uses 100 per cent of the textiles donated, recycling some into new garments for its own-label fashion range.

Do it now:
Take your used clothes to a textile bank. Go to to find your nearest one

Don't buy disposable cleaning clothes. Use old clothes and towels instead.

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