How to set up a recycling centre at home

Filed in Recycle by on May 15, 2009 19 Comments
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recycle at home

Two weeks into our zero waste challenge and I realised my recycling set up wasn’t working for me.

Boxes were toppling over, items were getting mixed up and my house was a mess. This was a sure fire way to throwing everything in the rubbish bin and giving up!

It’s important to find a suitable space in your home for storing your recyclable materials. It can be a cupboard, shelf, garage, porch or shed – whatever works for you.

Next, grab some containers to keep things in. You can buy new containers or use things you already have around your home. You’ll see from the photo of our recycling centre that we have made use of old cardboard boxes and a couple of plastic crates that we already had. That’s ok for me because our recycling is housed in a room away from the rest of the house; it doesn’t need to look pretty.

Your home recycling centre can be as perfect or rustic as you like – the main thing you are looking for is functionality and something that helps make your recycling easier and more convenient.

You might need to tweak things over the next few days – perhaps you need to move something to make it more handy, maybe you want things by the front door so you can take them with you when you pass the recycling centre or you might like to replace your kitchen bin with a container for holding recyclable materials.

Have a play, be creative and let me know what you come up with!


About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (19)

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  1. As you know I set one of these up earlier in the year when we had a shed clearout.

    I can happily report it is still working well, and because I now have room for larger boxes in which to store the recylables, I am not having to make special trips to HWRC just to clear things out.

    As yet I haven’t been to HWRC since setting up the centre so we are on 3 months, although I will go at the end of the month as one box of (type 5 & 6) plastic trays etc is nearly full.

    But this is a big decrease on what used to go into the landfill each week etc.

  2. Sam says:

    Our recycling pile was getting out of hand. Luckily I came across a set of three lidded recycling boxes on sale in Tesco, so we now have four lidded boxes outside, by the backdoor – for plastic, cardboard, tins and glass. Inside is a box without lid for paper (and stuff waiting to go outside!). We also have a bag for tetrapack, and jiffybag for squished foil and a cardboard tube from a whisky bottle to collect batteries – these are gradually being replaced with rechargable.
    I found it amazing what a difference sorting it all out made. Our landfill bag seems to have shrunk massively since the reorganisation. Spooky!

  3. Mrs Green says:

    @maisie dalziel: That’s excellent news, Maisie. It’s great if you have the room to store for a few weeks as this helps with the holistic idea of the environment through no unnecessary trips.

    @Sam: Hi Sam, it sounds like your system is working well for you. It is amazing how much less waste you create when there is a decent sorting system in place. We stayed in a mobile home on holiday and I was trying to gather some tips for people living in a small space. I realise we are lucky with the amount of room we have, but I’d like to be able to help others with less living space too.

  4. Carole says:

    I have three bins in my kitchen (all silver to match the decor natch). One large, one medium and one teeny. The recycling one is the largest, and I’m ashamed to say that before I became a dedicated Zero Waster, although I did recycle, this large bin was my main waste bin.

    Because I live in a small flat, there isn’t any room to put loads of recycling containers around the place. All of my recycling goes into the large bin, to be sorted once a week, bagged into the bags the council gives me, and taken downstairs to our flats’ communal recycling area. (one large wheely for paper, one for glass, one for plastic, aluminium and cans). Cardboard has to be flattened and taken down separately on recycling collection day.

    My medium bin is my Bokashi bin, (my first one is now full and fermenting and I’m going to take it up to my fiance’s place where it can spend another couple of weeks doing the fermentation thing before I tip it into his compost heap), while I set up the second Bokashi that I ordered. I drained off some of the fluid for fertiliser/drain cleaner like it tells you to, and whoa, farmyardy smells ensued!!

    The smallest teeny bin is now my waste bin. It usually gets things like crisp packets, and other unrecyclable plastics. I’m glad to say it doesn’t get emptied very often!

  5. Mrs Green says:

    @Carole: Oh Carole, you’re so posh with your lovely silver bins! No seriously, I love that, because designers are showing that recycling can be cool and attractive – the idea of rubbishy cardboard boxes holding old tins is enough to put some people off.

    It’s really inspiring to hear of how you deal with recycling in a small area. I know we are lucky because we have space, but you show that recycling can be done with a change of mindset and some organisation.

    You’re doing great and good to hear the bokashi is working out for you 🙂 Thanks for the update!

  6. Jane says:

    I am concerned about the lack of publicity about the R’s that come before Recycling.

    When you look at the Recycle Now website do you see anything any information showing the waste hierarchy and questioning whether something is ready to be recycled? Decluttering isn’t just a case of separating between landfill and recycling centre/box. Repair and Reuse come first (not to mention Reduce)! Recycling targets probably have a lot to answer for here.

  7. Jane says:

    What a lot of unsquashed cans in that green box!

    Aluminium cans in particular are really easy to squash – I think we learnt it from Blue Peter. First squash the middle with the toe of your shoe and then you can put more weight on each end. You’ll have so much more room in the green box and the recycling lorry and if you are taking them to a can bank then it won’t need emptying so often meaning fewer lorries on the road and a better price for the bankload of cans.

  8. Poppy says:


    I think that many if not most, of the people that come to this site will know that Jane. I think the picture was just used for illustration purposes. I have however seen green boxes that look very much like that and I console myself with the thought that they are at least making a small effort. My own cans tend to be a mix of hand crushed when they move off the draining board but I’m suffering from CBA syndrome, to completely flattened when I’m feeling more diligent!! Luckily, diligent is my normal frame of mind 🙂

  9. Jane says:

    @Poppy: Actually Poppy I think you would be surprised at how it won’t have crossed the minds of a lot of people and a lot of other people will be worried about whether it is OK to squash them just as they worry about whether or not you should leave the caps on bottles. The picture will be used as a reference. Pictures tend to win over words.

    Aim higher I say – you won’t necessarily get the best result but you’ll get a better overall one. Information is power.

  10. Mrs Green says:

    @Jane: Hello Jane, you make interesting points about the 3 Rs; they are in that order for a reason, as we know. But I guess it’s easier to give people receptacles to throw their unwanted stuff in rather than educate about reusing, let alone reducing…
    Squashing recyclables is important otherwise you are transporting 95% air, which is not economical. Tetra Pak recently ran a large competition encouraging people to ‘wash and squash’ – this allows for three times more recycling in the same sized containers.

    I personally tend to forget to squash our cans because our green box can last us over a month before getting full. I used to squash them more when I was running out of space – just goes to show that even l think of myself and my own convenience first 😉
    But yes, as Poppy pointed out, the photo was simply for illustrative purposes; it’s led to an interesting discussion though, so that’s great – thank you for starting the idea 🙂

  11. Jane says:

    Sometimes the recycling lorry stops outside while the guys attempt to reorganise their collection to make more room. In the past they have also on occasion sent a second lorry to collect the last of the recycling collection. (I must be at the end of the route.) Some things are just easier than others to do!

    I was interested in your article about whether to leave the lids on the plastic milk bottles or not. Technology is changing and I read an article in New Scientist a while back showing the whole bottle being recycled but whether we can or not in each of our own Council’s collections depends on their contract ie what technology the end facility has. Many people just don’t realise this. So often when you try and find out more information it takes too long to find someone in the Recycling Dept who knows anything. Recycling sites are often run by sub-contractors and the information they give differs from that of the Council!

    I think all the Councils who promoted the Tetra-Pak competition should be congratulated. I became irritated about unsquashed Tetra-Paks when I passed by a bank (there were only a few) to deliver my squashed ones only to find it overflowing with unsquashed ones. Since leaving them there by an overflowing bank is considered fly-tipping or littering (true – there are cameras to stop people doing this) I had to take them home again. Having made the effort to do it but failing to achieve was frustrating (and doesn’t please Mr Not-So-Keen-&-Rather-Sceptical). Bad Times!

    We have a new kerbside collection for these paperboard food and drink cartons and people are now asking me (because the information isn’t offered by the Council + no mention of squashing) whether it is better to leave the lids on or not. WRAP’s info tends to be far too general. The info needs to come through the Recycling Dept…

  12. Poppy says:

    The tetra pack point is an interesting one. Why do they have a round opening? Perhaps they should make them more like a small letterbox, people may get the idea to squash them then. It’s so easy to do and takes up less room while waiting to go the bring sites.

    There is a new initiative rolling out to the flats in the area, which have thus far been a problem for recycling. These will be (I believe), locked bins with small holes in the lids for the appropriate item – letterbox size for papers and small round holes for cans and bottles.

  13. Mrs Green says:

    @Jane: Hi Janet, you highlight an important issue about the differing information available between sites like WRAP, district councils and local councils. Confusion can lead to overwhelm and apathy for residents so it’s important that the correct information is readily available.
    Great to hear about your new kerbside collection 🙂

    @Poppy: Interesting question, Poppy – about the round opening on Tetra Pak cartons. Maybe we should investigate 😀 The new system for local flats sounds interesting; I hope it works out.

  14. Poppy says:

    We have a new recycling resource to add the question of how, where, why and what!

    Our local Tesco have added a huge machine that gives you a point for every item that you feed it. We went along yesterday with our big bag of plastic bottles and gained 70 Clubcard points 🙂 Sounds good yeah? Master P was over the moon, not about the points, but the actual feeding of the beast!! He then went scavanging around a load of dumped bags and boxes and managed to retrieve a further 50!! One strange thing I noticed, was that when Master P was chucking his treasures in, it didn’t complain about plastic egg boxes. Next time we go, I might see what it thinks of yoghurt pots and margarine tubs!

  15. Poppy says:

    Just done a little more research on this machine and it appears that Master P probably shouldn’t have chucked the egg boxes in and we probably didn’t get as many points as we’d hoped. But as they say “Every Little Helps”!

  16. John Costigane says:

    @Jane: Tetra Pak are ready to take back the whole package, including caps and foil/plastic seals, as part of their sustainability drive. The commingled collection locally takes the packs and squashing soon becomes automatic, after washing out and draining empty. Recyclable milk tops are probably best sent to GHS for reprocessing. Otherwise they are mixed with other less recyclable cap types.

  17. Mrs Green says:

    @Poppy: I’ve heard about these machines, Poppy, but never seen or used one. I never use Tesco, but I certainly applaud their effort to make recycling easier and with incentive. I may have to investigate 😉

  18. Grace Ensz says:

    Dear Mrs. Green,

    Your target of zero waste is very challenging to me. I live in Brazil where recycling is just starting. There are no curbside pick-ups but at the supermarkets they are now putting large bins for people to leave their recyclables. When I read your article I took it as a challenge to try and reduce our daily waste. When I started taking out recyclables our daily trash reduced to a half or more. I had an old laundry basket that was breaking and I had thought of declutttering and getting rid of it. I am glad I didn’t…the second R, I believe. So it sits outside my kitchen door in a convenient place. I took it yesterday when I did my weekly supemarket shopping and dropped it off. I felt happy, pleased and successful. Squashing all those tetra paks certainly does give one more room. Thanks for the example.

  19. Mrs Green says:

    @Grace Ensz: Hello Grace; it’s great to hear that recycling is starting in Brazil – I hope it is a popular choice and I’m delighted you’ve set yourself a challenge to give it a go. It sounds like you are doing so well and will be a great example to people in your neighbourhood – well done you 🙂

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