The Zero Waste Trash Challenge: Set Up a Recycling Center Based on Your Habits

How streamlined is your recycling system? The Zero Waste Challenge continues, daring you to trash your trash can. 

Give yourself a pat on the back for all the wonderful things you’ve done so far to reduce your landfill waste. In April you took a bin audit, from which you created your top five list to discover the materials that make up the majority of your weekly trash. Then you gave up disposable plastic bags for good; after all, these are such a waste of resources and can damage wildlife if dropped as litter. Last month you armed yourself with local information by finding out what you could recycle at your curbside and in local recycling areas. You should now have a list of the materials you can recycle and where you can recycle them.

This month you’re going to give your entire home recycling set up a Zero Waste makeover.

Here’s a before and after look at my recycling area. Note the borderline hoarding effect of dutifully saving all my materials vs. the practicality of dividing and conquering.

My before was not exactly conducive to inspired recycling. For example, I couldn’t get to the containers at the bottom so frankly, it was easier to throw things away. And we all know where “away” is:

As a solution, I dumped my kitchen bin. There’s nothing like throwing yourself in at the deep end. The problem is it’s so easy and convenient to open that door and pop something in the bin. Out of sight, out of mind, never to be thought of again. But by not thinking about the consequences of our actions we are wasting resources and polluting the planet.

Therein lies this month’s challenge. We’ll call it Operation: Bin Be Gone.

Now you’ll need to make recycling really work for you regardless of any difficulties you might face. You might have specific requirements such as dogs or cats that might enjoy sniffing around empty cans or toddlers that can’t resist the sharp edge of a tin. Perhaps you’re limited by space or live with an elderly person who needs supervision around rubbish and recycling. There are solutions to all of these issues.

Solution 1: People with small spaces can hang bags on the back of kitchen cupboard doors to store things in.

Solution 2: You might need a shelf outside the back door or on a balcony.

Solution 3: Maybe you need a few boxes in the garage or basement or maybe it’s easier to dot things around your house, like paper recycling next to the computer or plastic bottle recycling in the dining area.

The most important thing you can do to reduce the amount of space needed is to compact your recycling: crush tins, squeeze the air out of bottles and tetra pak containers, flatten cardboard boxes and keep paper flat rather than crumpling it.

Like this:

Keep it clean too, so you aren’t surrounded by stinky trash. Rinsing out a can is pretty much like washing a plate – do it straight away and don’t let anything set hard around the edge. Use old washing up water to save resources and give bottles and cartons a rinse at the same time before squashing down. Your new mantra for this month is “wash & squash!”

Spend some time thinking about your habits. Where are you when you need to recycle something? Sitting at your computer, washing up in the kitchen or doing your morning routine in the bathroom? Put a suitable container in that room for the type of materials you want to recycle.

Figure out whether you prefer to have everything in one place with an assortment of labeled containers or if you need to put up a couple of shelves somewhere. Be creative, think outside the recycling box and always focus on solutions. With a bit of thought you can make recycling just as convenient as throwing something in the trashcan.

Image: Martha Stewart; Goodwill