How to Overcome Recycling Challenges When Living in an Apartment

Filed in Blog by on May 12, 2023 0 Comments
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Many blogs about reducing waste, centre around larger family homes. It’s something I’ve spoken openly about before. I’m aware that we’re very lucky. We have a room on the side of our kitchen to store recyclables and we have a garden large enough to compost. But I’m aware this isn’t the case for all readers of myzerowaste.

Recently, Mr Green and I were on holiday in a small apartment, and it got me thinking about this topic again. Also, my mum and dad have moved to a retirement complex. They are in an upstairs apartment with a tiny balcony. But they’re still doing their bit, as we did when on holiday.

So yes, recycling in an apartment can be difficult because there may not be as much space to store recyclable materials, facilities may be lacking, you may not have access to a garden and perhaps you can’t bulk buy goods. However, I’m all about the solutions, so let’s put our heads together and come up with creative ideas for being a Zero Waste Hero, no matter what sort of lifestyle you have. From reducing your waste to finding creative ways to store recyclables, let’s dig in…

The benefits of recycling

Recycling is the process of converting waste materials into new products, and is one of the most effective ways to reduce waste and conserve resources. It has numerous benefits for us and the environment, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions, saving energy and conserving natural resources. When we recycle, we’re also doing our part to create a more sustainable future for ourselves and future generations.

Recycling also has a positive impact on the economy by fostering job growth and creating demand for recycled materials. It can also help reduce the cost of waste disposal, which can save local councils and taxpayers money in the long run.

A common challenge with recycling – confusion

One of the main concerns I hear from readers is confusion. Many people are unsure about what can and cannot be recycled, which can result in contamination, rendering an entire batch of recyclables unusable. This is why It’s important to know how your local authority operate to ensure that your recycling efforts are actually working. One of the first steps I recommend is to type your postcode into the Recycle Now website. You’ll discover what can be collected from your kerbside and at local bring banks or HWRCs. I suggest checking this every six months or so, as facilities change all the time.

Overcoming space limitations

Recycling is an important part of sustainable living, but for those who live in small apartments, finding space for recyclables can often be a challenge. This is where your creativity comes into play. One family I worked with set up a tier system of recycling boxes   right next to the front door. Another family hung bags on the back of their kitchen door. Another installed recycling containers under their kitchen sink. Some families make it a daily task to deposit their recyclables in the communal area when they leave their flat in the mornings. Others, who pass a bring bank regularly – say on their way to work or gym – take materials with them to recycle there and then, so that they don’t need to store them at home. Experiment with different ideas and storage solutions to find what works for you.

Don’t store air!

This sounds so simple now I write it, but one of the biggest game changers for us was the moment when I realised that most of what was filling our recycling containers was air! Think about it – every empty plastic bottle, milk carton, juice carton or tin is 99% air! So find a way to compact your recyclables and you’ll be able to store at least a third more goods. You can wash and squash juice cartons, buy tin crushers for aluminium (such fun for the children to do!) and compact plastic bottles before putting the lids back on. You’ll be amazed how much space this frees up.

Get creative with gardening

Gardening, in an apartment? Impossible! Or is it? In a space that measures only 16 x 8 ft, high up on a London rooftop, Penelope Bennett cultivates a garden that includes artichokes, beans, peas, tomatoes, peppers, alpine strawberries, raspberries, herbs, potatoes and six different fruit trees! She has made a wormery from an old wine box, feeds the birds and even has a mini pond with fountain. Everybody can grow herbs on a sunny windowsill, but you can extend an urban garden further with window boxes, hanging baskets (great for strawberries and tumbling tomatoes) and wall planters. Growing a small amount of food is a fantastic way to reduce air miles and plastic packaging. One family I worked with, keep a wormery in a kitchen cupboard – now that’s quite a talking point! If worms aren’t your thing, then bokashi bin will sit on your kitchen worktop and you can even put small amounts of cooked meat and dairy into them.

Reuse where you can

Reuse and upcycling involves repurposing old items into something new and useful. For instance, you can turn old clothes into washable cleaning cloths. Cotton t-shirts make fantastic reusable bags. You can use old glass jars as storage containers. Coffee tins are great for keeping balls of string to stop them tangling around everything in your kitchen drawer. For a few more simple ideas, see this post


Decluttering without landfill

If you’re having a clear out and live in a tiny space, it can be tempting just to bag up all that unwanted stuff and throw it away. I hear you! Out of sight, out of mind is a beautiful thing. But as I remind people, there is no such place as ‘away’. It’s always somewhere else – the bottom of the ocean floor, a turtle’s stomach, a ship to China, that piece of litter you see on your way home, an incinerator or a landfill site. Anything with second hand value can be sold through Facebook marketplace or an auction site like eBay. Items with lots of use left in them like toys or children’s clothes can be donated to charity or a gifting site like Freecycle. If none of those work for you, consider using a waste removal and collection service that picks up your recyclables from your apartment. Many recycling businesses offer this service, and it’s a convenient way to make sure that your recyclables are properly disposed of while decluttering space in your apartment.

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.

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