Most of us recycle - it's a fact. Our relationship with our dustbins is finally moving from support and nourishment to scorn and neglect. According to recent research by Recycle Now, 59 per cent of us are now committed recyclers compared to only 45 per cent two years ago. The proportion of people who claim not to recycle at all has fallen from 13 per cent to a meagre 7 per cent. The number of pink recycle bags on the streets of Clapham has certainly increased markedly in the last couple of years. The growing piles of pink may be a little gaudy but this is no bad thing: the brightly freckled early morning streets are a vivid expression of our collective pride in reducing our environmental impact.
Having turned this corner, perhaps now is a good time to remind ourselves that recycling, however admirable, is not at the top of the waste hierarchy. Recycling is better than chucking stuff away and ripping new stuff from the biosphere but it is nonetheless a complex, energy-intensive palaver. If we really want to put the brakes on our resource-hungry society, we need to reuse materials and reduce our consumption as well as recycling our waste. In fact, let's skip re-use and go straight to the top. Here are 10 practical ways of reducing the amount of stuff that enters your house in the first place.
* Keep a bottle of tap water in the fridge and you will never buy mineral water again. When chilled, you can't tell the difference between them.
* Register for the Mailing Preference Service to stop all the junk mail that lands on your doormat. See www.mpsonline.org.uk or call 0845 703 4599.
* Learn a handful of simple, rewarding recipes and leave over-packaged ready meals on the supermarket shelf. As cookery writer Elizabeth David pointed out a long time ago, nothing beats the perfectly cooked omelette with a glass of wine.
* Get some nickel metal hydride (NiMH) rechargeable batteries in all the shapes and sizes you need and a charger that will adapt to them all. Single use batteries are the devil's work.
* Choose natural hard floors over carpets. The latter make a surprisingly high contribution to the life-time environmental impact of a building simply because they get changed so often.
* Buy in bulk. Snacks (for example) are a big source of packaging waste so avoid the plastic-wrapped options where you can. Buy a 5kg bag of almonds and roast them yourself and you won't look back.
* Grow your own. This is the only guaranteed way of cutting out food packaging altogether. Even a windowsill is good enough for your favourite herbs.
* Only buy things you love and will go on loving. If in doubt, leave it and come back another day.
* Use compact fluorescent light bulbs. As these last far longer than ordinary tungsten bulbs they are resource efficient as well as energy efficient.
* Rethink Christmas. There really must be a better way of expressing your love for friends and family than buying loads of stuff to fill their cupboards. Apologies for mentioning the C word in September but failing to plan is planning to fail and Christmas trips up even the most dedicated greenies.
What can I possibly recommend as a great buy in a column about reducing your consumption? Something that will last forever: J S Bach's Mass in B Minor. You won't have to re-use these CDs as bird scarers. From £7.99 at www.hmv.co.uk.
If your kids aren't convinced about the value of recycling, check out the Tale of Two Cans at www.scrib.org.Reuse content