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Our Four barriers to recycling at home

Having been discussing the idea of this challenge for the last 18 months, I have been conscious of how we recycle. It's also how long we've lived in our current home. Here's the things I've noticed over that time about the barriers we have to better recycling.

Photo of Nathan Waterhouse
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Our barriers to better recycling as a family
  1. Family agreement. Between my wife and I, we passionately believe in the cause to recycle better, but unfortauntely other values inhibit our progress e.g. we don't compost because it's just another thing to do, plus it's smelly.
  2. Aesthetics vs Sustainbility. Our bin system just isn't particularly inviting. Both our own bins inside and the ones the council provide aren't very easy to use, nor nice to handle. I keep wondering 'How could we design a more user friendly bin system?' 
  3. Packaging is confusing. Blended packaging still confuses me. If it's cardboard plus plastic, do I need to separate them? If it's a silvery lined plastic container is that ok? Tetrapac's milk cartons? 
  4. Conflicting priorities. When we're juggling both our boys and managing busy schedules, priorities shift. How can we make it more tangible to people that each and every action counts, especially when there's scarce headspace to think long term?
During this challenge I'm going to try and make some small changes to our system and I hope to share back with some (more attractive at least) photos of my progress. What's your system for recycling? What works and what doesn't for you?



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Photo of Meena Kadri

Loving the honest reflections on this, Nathan. I'm going to have a think about what some of the barriers for me are too.

Tip on keeping your compost less smelly: If you're keeping a smaller bucket / container inside under your sink, always put some ripped up paper + cardboard in the bottom when you start (I keep a bag of paper / cardboard closely to use for this) It'll stop your compost container smelling as it absorbs moisture which usually causes the smell. Don't add protein – that's usually going to go smelly fast. When you add to your outside compost bin, turn the contents every time you top it up. All in all – this should keep your composting efforts smelling sweet :^)

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I really enjoyed reading this post, the points your raise are all clear and easy for us all to relate to, whether its living in a family unit or a mix of people in a house share like myself the issues are very similar.

My post raises similar points to yours, recycling at home firstly needs to be easy, the recycling and bin system needs to be designed to fit in to a family's life style and work in harmony with the people using it, secondly the messaging around what can and cannot be recycled needs to be clear and understandable on a basic level, it also needs to relate to the waste arising in the home.

I've worked in the recycling industry for a number of years now and carried out more recycling assessments on material arising in recycling bins than I care to remember. The point you raised about packaging comprising of a number of materials in different formats being confusing when it comes to if it should be recycled is an issue I have seen time and time again (its also a question I have been asked many times as well). Messaging is an important factor when looking to collect the correct material, for example a recycling bin that is messaged to collect "cans and plastic bottles only" will on the whole collect cans and plastic bottles only with very little contamination, if however the messaging reads "mixed recyclables" or does not clearly state a packing type then everything tends to end up thrown in as most items of packaging contain at least one material that is recyclable regardless of it being attached or merged with anther material type.

My house mate's class me as a guru when it comes to recycling knowledge, at home I am often asked the question of "what do I do with this as it has xxxx material and yyyy material", sometimes I have no answer for them and that is when you can see they loose faith (if only a little) in recycling as it's added effort, this relates back to my point on it needing to be easy and take only a few seconds or the care is lost.

Photo of Nathan Waterhouse

Thanks Luke! Great comments. Maybe you could build them into an idea or two and post them in the Ideas Phase.

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Congrats on this post being today's Featured Contribution!

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One step ahead of point one is the PURCHASING DECISION which compliments your list.

Photo of James Moynagh


Great post, my thoughts after reading, is there more than one challenge here that we are facing?
You could break it down into points 1 & 3 are a challenge to be worked on. This is where we need to approach from campaigns on promoting recycling and educating people on recycling.
Point 2 is a separate challenge around the design of the bins. Something which is easy to use, is cool looking maybe, makes people like to recycle (think to some the research where the bins thank you for recycling), becomes a feature of the home that doesn’t stand out in a bad way and is easy to move the recyclables to a main bin. The same would apply in public systems.
Point 3 could also be considered another challenge as it deals with the packaging side of things. How best can we redesign the packaging to make it easier for people to know where each part goes if there’s a combined packaging and do we need to separate etc.

Can all 3 be tackled under the one umbrella and be successful? I think we can we could answer both yes and no.
No because each on their own is a massive challenge to overcome in the modern world with so many different standards across states and cities (as the research is showing about the USA), while other countries across the world will have their own standards. All have their positives and negatives. Maybe its better to work on one aspect at a time and get that sorted like we would like and then move onto the sext aspect.
Yes, because why not. Why not when we are taking on this challenge work on all 3 in the one go. It will mean there is a better link between all three. If we were to work on one on its own, say redesign a great bin system for the home but we could then find that there is conflicts of interests with the messages we receive, for example where packaging needs to be separated or not. Or not enough promotional messages been used to let people know about how our bin works. But if we tackle all 3 at once, we are hopefully improving things at the source and having better packaging come out onto the market which is easier to separate, and more importantly easier to identify what type of bin it has to go into be it through the use of symbols or colour schemes. This means that there is no mixed messages been conveyed to people on how to recycle. Campaigns to promote recycling would apply across the board. Finally this continuity means that the newly designed bin system is a lot easier for people to use in their homes and hopefully means less materials heading to landfill which can be recycled.

Photo of Sarah Fathallah

I definitely empathize with your third point Nathan. I wonder how the packaging itself can take some of that thinking off of the user 's mind, especially for blended packaging as you mention.

Photo of Arjan Tupan

Great sharing of personal observations, Nathan. Your third point stood out for me, because here in Germany, that's actually quite simple: packaging goes in the yellow container (basically anything with the circular recycling logo on it). But having said that, I really love it when I buy a product for which the packaging is designed in such a way, that it's easy to separate plastics from paper/cardboard. So, that can be done, too.

Photo of Matt Currie

Great analysis Nathan. Your comments about juggling kids and busy schedules especially resonate for me. Take composting for example, for me that involves getting food from plates, lunch boxes etc into a receptacle in the kitchen, covering the receptacle, storing the receptacle, monitoring how full the receptacle is, taking the receptacle outside to where the compost bin is stored...etc. And this is all usually timed around meal times which are challenging enough. How can we reduce the perceived time and mental effort required to carry out recycling behaviours so that people can easily fit them into their lives?