How to recycle 3 bags of waste without a car

Filed in Blog by on September 21, 2010 14 Comments
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Mrs Green with a bag of garden greens

Mrs Green with a bag of garden greens

If you read the blog yesterday, you’ll remember that one of our readers, Antonio, set me his “Zero Waste With Little Emissions” challenge in order for me to fully understand some of the difficulties people face with recycling. His particular challenge involves me recycling 5 different items without the use of my car, compost heap or kerbside collections

I have to admit, most of yesterday involved talking and not a lot of action! Mr Green and I spent most of the day discussing what we could do. Even if we found somewhere to recycle our garden waste, there was no way I could cart three bags of it onto a bus; I probably wouldn’t be allowed on. Likewise the rubble.

Small chunks

With the wise words of my life coach buzzing around in my head, I decided to break the challenge down into small chunks and focus on 1 item per day.

Garden waste

Picture the scene: I’m standing there with my three bags of garden waste and I’m not allowed to use compost bins or my kerbside collection. I can’t carry it to the bus stop (it’s only 3/4 mile away but I’m not exactly Hercules – although Little Miss Green is but she’s in school). Even if I could carry it onto the bus, where would I take it to? If I arrive at the household recycling centre, I won’t be allowed in because I’m on foot.

These are exactly the issues Antonio is hoping I’ll begin to understand. 10 points to him, a big zero to me.

Here are the options that go through my mind:

Dump It!

I could cheat! I have a huge field at the back of my house and chucking my garden waste over there by the stream isn’t going to do any harm, but ya know, that would be erm, cheating right?

Trench Composting

I could dig it direct into the soil a la trench composting. It’s an old fashioned method of composting, so would that satisfy Antonio I wonder? If so, I’m going to go for that option.

The sulk

I have to be honest and say that I don’t understand why I can’t compost. If I have a garden large enough to create three bags of garden waste, then surely I have a garden large enough to compost it in? That is nature’s way after all and what people have been doing for centuries …


Offer it on Freecycle. Would somebody actually WANT my garden waste or would they just take it out of kindness – maybe I could offer it for someone just starting out with a compost heap as some funky ‘starting material’.


Then I have a brain wave. Next to the bus stop are our village allotments. I reckon I could offer it to the 12 or so people who grow their own stuff. Mr Green, Little Miss Green and I could carry a bag each. It’s not an easy task, but Antonio didn’t say how big the bags were now, did he!?

My decision

So without going for the cheating option, I would go for trench composting, it’s meant to be great for runner beans and potatoes (both of which we grow) AND we currently have a bare bed of soil which we are looking for condition this autumn.

If that is deemed as cheating, then I would go for the village allotments. Our neighbour has one, so I could ask him and he may even offer to take it down for me instead of us having to carry it 😉

The score on the door?

Go on then – give me points out of 10 for ingenuity

Tomorrow I have to cope with a bag of broken wood which I’m not allowed to compost…

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 (14)

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  1. Judith Green says:

    I do think this is a bit of a false task. You are right, there is virtually no home that doesn’t have space for some kind of composting – even if that is a wormery on a highrise balcony. And the proportion of compostable waste is, at least in part, in proportion with the space under vegetation. So who are the people who can’t compost?

    Without kerbside collections, a lot of recyling simply won’t get done – so rather than look for alternatives to kerbside recycling, how about looking at ways to lobby for more and better kerbside recycling? Again, who are the people who have NO kerbside collection? How far do they live from walkable recycling facilities? Because it strikes me that kerbside collection is actually concentrated in urban areas, and that people outside urban areas are more likely to have cars.

  2. Antonio Pachowko says:

    Thank you for taking part in my challenge as I have deliberately chosen materials which non-car drivers will find difficult to recycle ( I know that I am).

    Judith must remember not all councils have a Green waste collection and that it not always possible to have compost bins or heap due to amount of waste produced. The background to this problem is that I live in Calderdale where there is no kerbside collection of garden waste, but for a price of £1.50 a bag known as “white sackss” I can get “Soft Clippings”-i.e grass, non-woody prunings collection via the refuge collection. In effect To pay twice-once via the council tax and again with the white bag scheme- to get the same level that car drivers will get, so that I am being penalised for not being a car driver. You see I do have a compost bin in which I put in my fruit, vegetables, flowers, weeds, grass cuttings but you see I have roses, brambles, fuchsias and a Forsythia bush which produces a lot of waste , which is far too much for one compost bin. For example every late october./early november I prune my four rose bushes and upteen fuchsia plants (more each year as it spreads like wild fire) and can produce up to six white sacks. My garden is not big enough for more compost bins so tell me what can I do?

    No Mrs Green fly tipping is not acceptable, no trench composting is not acceptable as I do it all ready but the problem is this fuchsia have a woody stem (so does roses and brambles) that does not rot quickly and when you dig it up next spring you keep finding fuchsia stems. Another problem is when you bury fuchsias new plants start to grow where you bury it.

    Mrs Green who would want garden waste and giving to allotment (or possible arable farmers) is a possiblity but can be said to be unreliable, so I give you a 5. Difficult is it?

  3. Sarah says:

    No composting? Eh? Does not compute… I’m in the same boat here. Almost everything that is “produced” in my garden is recycled on site – either through the hens or via the compost heap. It’s only the big thick woody bits that go in the green bin for municipal recycling/composting, and a few hardy weeds like brambles, rose prunings, that the hens don’t like and I won’t put in my compost bin because it doesn’t get hot enough to kill them. Some things can be grown on and offered to friends, neighbours, on freecycle, local allotments. I’ve rehomed several blackcurrant plants that way, and other plants too.

    Surely the argument is that if you produce garden waste it should be recycled into compost in some way? What else do you do with a pile of grass cuttings? If it doesn’t go for hen food (here, not everyone has that option), or in the compost bin, then you could use it as mulch – but that is still rotting down and “composting” in a way. And, yes, if you make lots of garden waste then you must have a decent sized garden and can put some sort of compost facility in place for at least some of it.

    Sorry Antonio, but excluding home composting for all the waste just doesn’t make sense. Even a small compost bin will take a small amount of the waste produced if not all.

  4. Sarah says:

    Oh, a score, I’d give you a 6 for effort and ingenuity and I’d allow you to compost one of the three bags if it’s properly sorted and I’d make you account for what went in the compost bin.

  5. Madam Salami says:

    I have to agree with the Judith and Sarah (and Mrs Green’s Sulk), on this one, no home composting is silly.

    Antonio, you say that you compost what you can yourself at home and its the thick woody stems that you can’t compost so why is Mrs Green not allowed to do the same? Surely finding a way to use/dispose of these woody stems that can’t be home composted is actually the task not all garden waste in general?

  6. Antonio Pachowko says:

    It seems to me that people are missing the point it is about people in general (i.e Not me) who do not have a car or access to a car. Not everybody has a compost bin or produce too much to fit in a compost bin, in these cases , what do you do? It is a challenge to get people thinking and come up with solutions that I have not thought off and as you can see it has no easy solution. It would not be much of a challenge if you could compost it or get it collected from the Kerbside. In all these challenge you have to think of a person with no car access, limited kerbside collection and limited resoures i,e no compost bin. To use an analogy it is easy to score a hundred on a flat batting pitch where the ball in not swinging or seaming and the bounce is true, but you try to score a hundred on a swinging, seaming, spinning, variable bounce pitch then you know the difference.

  7. Judith Green says:

    I do not have a car. Same boat as you.

    I compost. If my garden produced too much difficult to compost woody waste, and had no kerbside green waste pick up, then I would consider getting rid of the roses, forsythia &c (someone will come and take the plants to transplant on freecycle if you advertise them) and replace with rhubarb and climbing beans – which will rot down lovely.

    Or you could borrow a shredder, which makes woody waste more easy to compost.

  8. H0gg1t says:

    I give Mrs G an honest 6 as she has risen to the challenge and obviously thought through the problem and come up with a variety of feasible options. I agree with several points made and would have applauded the trench composting idea, or the one offering the waste to allotmenteers as a solution in Mrs G’s case.

    I can however see Antonio’s problem. We are all talking from a perspective of being “able”, surely there are many households, who have large gardens, but are no longer fit enough to actively garden. These are possibly the particular households who no longer have access to cars and are off the radar for municiple collections. Are we all sitting pretty in urban settings with Councils switched on to most aspects of recycling?

    Although I agree that everyone should compost; I can see the sceario where someone, not interested in gardening, living on the n-th floor of an inner city block of flats would be disinclined to want a wormery on their only outside space.

    A tricky problem.

  9. Madam Salami says:

    @Judith Green: “I would consider getting rid of the roses, forsythia (someone will come and take the plants to transplant on freecycle if you advertise them) and replace with rhubarb and climbing beans – which will rot down lovely.” – I thought this too

  10. Judith Green says:

    arge gardens, no longer fit enough to actively garden – either use landshare scheme or downsize to somewhere more manageable.

    Living on the n-th floor of an inner city block of flats. If you want to grow anything in your limited outside space, then you will welcome the wormery. If you don’t want to grow anything on your balcony, then your garden waste is a non-problem. For kitchen waste, I can see it’s more of a problem, but that’s not the task that was set.

    I also don’t think that councils are wrong in principle to charge people to collect certain types of waste. I think it is wrong-headed if we want to encourage recycling, but they are NOT charging people twice. I make a massive saving by not running a car. How much does it cost someone to drive to the recycling centre – petrol and a share of the fixed costs? It is not a free trip. The council is not reimbursing anyone their costs in transporting their waste to be recycled/composted. So, why should I complain if the council charge to pick up certain categories of waste from me, when they don’t pick it up for free from anyone? Now, as someone who believes passionately in waste reduction for environmental reasons, it is clear that free at point of kerbside collection is better in every way – reduces the miles driven and increases the composting/recycling rates. But that’s not because charging is wrong in principle (you do have to pay for a kerbside collection scheme out of your council tax).

  11. Nick Palmer says:

    Antonio needs a chipping shredder.

  12. Magdalena says:

    Some municipalities in North America will not allow composting in one’s yard – trench or otherwise. There is a fear that the compost will attract vermin. I don’t compost because I don’t want raccoons in the yard. We have curb pickup, but not for compostables. (Toronto does.) My options, beyond binning the compostables are: Zero. Without a vehicle, there is no way to get compostables somewhere else. So what about an improvised vehicle? A bike with a trailer? A wheelbarrow? I would call around to find a group that has an allowed compost and ask them if I could donate to them. Some churches here will start group composts and gardens, or an agricultural co-op. Another option is to get a pig farmer to pick up good compostables to run through his pigs. (Animal products, obviously, can’t be included – Britain has seen too much of that problem already. This is how scrapie, BSE and other diseaes have been spread and it is certainly a repulsive idea anyway.)

  13. Ben says:

    I don’t have a car either, so certain types of waste are difficult. I do however have a garden now, and the compost bin is extremely efficient now it’s established at breaking stuff down. I’m fortunate to have space for a second one if needed, but the cost of buying these bins is an issue and I was lucky to find one in my garden when I moved in. I keep filling it up and it keeps vanishing as the water evaporates and much of the material is broken down in to carbon dioxide. Some stuff however does take a long time to compost, anything tough and woody. I tend to chop it up in to smallish bits, about 6″ long, and I don’t mind that the finished compost has lots of half composted sticks in it, they just mix in to the soil when I empty it out. Could anything bigger be dried and used as kindling to start a solid fuel fire?

  14. Mrs Green says:

    Thanks everyone for such interesting and varied comments. This challenge certainly provoked a lot of us to speak out!

    @Judith Green: Thanks for your thoughts, Judith – you echo many of my feelings too. l am prepared to hold my hands up at any time and admit I cannot find a solution, but I fail to see with this particular item how a garden can produce more waste than it can deal with.., Unless, we are trying to control things too much or as @H0gg1t: points out, the person has got to a situation where they physically cannot garden and compost well. But then, they would probably get someone in to manage the land and deal with all the waste?
    @Antonio Pachowko: Thanks for your thoughts, Antonio. I would agree with @Nick Palmer: and suggest a shredder in your instance, and then the items can be used as mulch around plants such as your roses. You could even offer you ‘woodchip bark’ on Freecycle or chop things up into smaller pieces and tuck under a hedge to provide shelter for wildlife.
    @Sarah: thanks Sarah; I tend to agree that a garden can deal with its own waste – that’s natures way. It must be that we have tried to take over too much if we produce more than we can deal with, because you don’t find that happening in a forest or other ‘unmanaged’ area. Anything that is excessive can be used on a bonfire – just like the good old days 🙂
    @Madam Salami: Thanks for your comment. Thick things can even be left in a pile to provide homes for wildlife; this is a great way to allow things to rot over a number of years. Pushed under a hedge or shrub, they are not unpleasant for even the most meticulous of gardeners 😉
    @Magdalena: I’m shocked that some areas are not allowed to compost – what are we doing? It’s the way nature deals with excess and nothing goes to waste. But i’d forgotten about community composting schemes and that is an excellent suggestion.
    @Ben: great that you had a free compost bin! You’re right; larger pieces can indeed be dried and used as kindling – that’s what we do. Even stuff like hedging, once you strip off the leaves will burn after a couple of years.

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