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Home front - taking action against waste at home

Household waste is a major problem with each household in the UK producing on average about a tonne of rubbish every year.

Fortunately there are things that we can all do about it. We call these the 3Rs - reduce, reuse and recycle.

Reduce means cut the amount of stuff you use in the first place so that you have less to throw away. Here are some ideas.

  • Don't buy things that you don't really need.
  • When you do buy things, choose things that are well made and that will last.
  • Choose toys and games that don't need batteries. If you do need batteries, use rechargeable ones.
  • Don't just throw things away if they break down. Instead, repair them yourself (if you know how) or get them repaired at a specialist shop. Take particular care with electrical items as trying to mend these without knowing what you are doing can lead to serious accidents.
  • Buy snacks and other food with less packaging on. For example you could buy an apple instead of a packet of crisps. Or you could take cake or biscuits to school from a large packet at home instead of buying individually wrapped biscuits or cakes.
  • Try not to buy take away food like pizzas, fish and chips, burgers and kebabs which as well as not being all that healthy, usually have a lot of waste associated with them.
  • Use reusable bottles or flasks for your drinks instead of individual cartons or cans and use reusable airtight containers for snacks and packed lunches instead of disposable wrappers.
  • Don't use disposable things. For example: use a normal camera instead of a disposable one; use a washable handkerchief instead of paper tissues; or, if you're having a party, use metal cutlery and real crockery instead of that made from plastic or paper.

    couple at a supermarket checkout 
reusing plastic carrier bags

  • Encourage your family to take their own shopping bags when they go shopping. This will reduce the number of carrier bags you waste.

Reuse means use things again (and again and again). If you can't reduce, then try to reuse. Lots of things can be reused. If you can't reuse them yourself try to find someone else who can.

  • Instead of throwing away old clothes, toys, books, CDs, and videos, take these to a charity shop, car boot sale or jumble sale so that someone else can use them.

    pile of folded clothes

  • When you've finished reading a book, give it to your friends to read. After they've done so, you can talk about it in the playground.
  • Save glass or plastic containers. Decorate them and reuse them for storing other things. It helps if you make sure that they are properly labelled.
  • Reuse yoghurt pots or the bottom half of plastic bottles to grow plants in.
  • Reuse envelopes by sticking a label over the old address. This will save money as well as reducing the number of envelopes that are thrown away.
  • Plastic carrier bags can be reused several times as shopping bags and can then be used as bin liners.
  • Get your printer and toner cartridges refilled when you've finished with them. There are now high street shops that do this and it's cheaper and less wasteful than buying a new cartridge.
  • There are an increasing number of companies which collect and refurbish computer equipment and mobile phones, some of which is then sold cheaply to schools and charities.
  • When you grow out of your old bike, give it to a friend or family member who would like it or alternatively sell it to someone else who can make use of it.
  • Suggest that your parents buy milk in glass bottles from your milkman which can be returned for reuse. This reduces the number of plastic or cardboard milk containers that might otherwise be thrown away.

Recycle means using things that have already been used, to make new things. Only recycle when you can't reduce or reuse. Here are some ways in which you can do this.

  • Save glass bottles or jars, drinks cans, aluminium foil and paper and take them to a recycling bank. Some places also recycle plastic bottles, clothes, shoes and other items.

    boy putting a bottle into a recycling bin bank

  • To find out what you can recycle where in your area, look on the www.recycle-more.co.uk website or contact the recycling officer at your local council.
  • Although they cannot usually be put into paper banks, many councils now collect old phone books and Yellow Pages. For details, contact the Directory Recycling Scheme by calling 0800 671444 or look at www.yellgroup.com.

    recycling collection box on a doorstep

  • Encourage your parents to make use of kerbside collections for paper, glass, plastics bottles and cans, if these are provided by your local council.
  • Make or buy a compost bin or worm composter. Use these to recycle your waste food scraps and garden waste into compost, which you can use to grow new food or flowers.
  • Five million Christmas trees are bought in Britain every year. If you buy one, make sure it's composted afterwards. Your local council should be able to tell you where to do this.
  • Buy recycled. It's only by buying things made from recycled materials that you will make it worthwhile to recycle things in the first place.

So remember to reduce, reuse and recycle your waste. It is much better to reduce waste in the first place as then there is less to deal with. Reusing things is the second best option as it saves you buying new things. After you have reduced and reused as much as you can, recycle.

The last thing that should cross your mind is to throw it in the bin!

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