Fun with rubbish

New Year’s Day. I’m up and sorting out crisp packets, chocolate wrappers, empty deodorants, dead biros, and bread bags for Terracycle dropoff. It’s kinda ick to see how much we get through. I spent months of 2019 bending my mind to taking the reduce/reuse side seriously, but there’s still plenty left to recycle because we live in the modern world and there are three teenagers in the house.

I started using Terracycle last year after reading about it on a zero-waste Facebook group. It works like this: some big corporation sets up an incentivised recycling programme where a group (usually a church or school, but not necessarily) can make a little bit of money by sending product packaging in large batches so that it can be profitably recycled. The profit side isn’t greatly in line with my own values, but I haven’t found a better alternative to pitching stuff in a landfill. (I tried ecobricking and it was far too time-intensive, although an instructive experience in terms of really grasping just how hard it is to get away from unnecessary plastic.)


The website isn’t the easiest to use in the world. You have to look up each waste stream individually and then find a location near you that takes that type of item. Some locations take multiple items, some take only one kind of waste, and some programmes only take a particular brand. Last year I dropped off at a local church that collected several different kinds of waste, but it looks like they aren’t taking crisp packets or sweet wrappers anymore, so I might be heading to a hedgehog rescue centre in South Shropshire to unload that stuff.

Where we live, rubbish collection happens fortnightly. There’s one wheelie bin for the household. The last time I took ours down was just after Easter. I have been cleaning the shed this week, so it’s starting to fill up again and I will probably take it down in January. Other than that, we haven’t used it or the green garden waste bin (because we have a garden and I compost all of our food).

In our kitchen windowsill I keep a bin for personal care products and a jar labelled ‘Pen Cemetary’–Ryman stationers collect that. Instead of a kitchen bin I have a box for cardboard and paper. Hanging from a hook is a bag for recyclable plastic like bread bags and inner cereal wrappers and a bag for non-recyclable plastics (this is the stuff I was ecobricking–now I just toss it, but it’s much less than before the ecobrick experiment).

When I look at the photo, everything is a compromise. I tried exclusively baking our own bread. Took too much time. I tried sticking to popcorn and oven-roasted veggie skins instead of crisps; also too much time, and too boring. I banned multipacks of crisps, but then discovered that my partner had been buying them for one of the kids and had wrappers stashed in his car in the hundreds. We all love chocolate, but it has a terrible record for human rights as well as environmental destruction. I buy it in bulk, cheaply, from a Belgian company with pretty good cred; but at Christmas I caved and bought high street chocolate for the stockings. I also litterpick sometimes when I’m running as part of my campaign to become a difficult bat as I age.

I’ve talked about this before on Facebook and elsewhere. There was a positive response from people trying to do more about their own consumption and waste patterns. I find I feel defensive, though, because I don’t want to come across as bragging about my efforts or shaming anyone who isn’t able to put this level of work in (and it is work, no doubt about it). At the same time, I feel defensive against those who have thrown up their hands and succumbed to nihilism or despair, who will mock anybody who is making some kind of effort to do better in the face of seemingly insurmountable forces determined to crash the natural world to its death. I will always maintain that to do something is better than to do nothing. It may not matter to anybody but me and my family, but the alternative is to ride along passively with a current that is running outside my own value system. I have done my share of being helpless; it’s a last resort.

On a lighter note: there’s ASMR in folding crisp wrappers.

Happy new year!