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Seven habits for effective recycling

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Why mothers make all the difference

Recycling is something that either fills you with delight or dread. Perhaps you’ve tried and given up, or maybe you love to see how little waste ends up in your rubbish bin before it goes to landfill.

“Every day, we use paper and cardboard products – toilet paper, egg cartons, books, coffee cups, office paper, cereal boxes and milk cartons,” says Anele Sololo, general manager of RecyclePaperZA, the South African paper recycling association.

Paper is part of daily life, and many of these products should be kept out of the bin – and thus out of landfill – so they can be recycled into new products that staples in our kitchens and bathrooms.

In 2019, South Africa recovered 1.2 million tonnes of recyclable paper and paper packaging which, when baled, would stretch 1 400km (think Kempton Park to Cape Town) if the bales were laid end to end, fill 1 442 Olympic swimming pools or cover 219 soccer pitches, one bale deep.

“More importantly, this recovered paper saved 3.6 million cubic metres of landfill space,” notes Sololo.

Getting into the recycling rhythm is not always easy. It does require a bit of extra thought, a simple system in the home and a collective effort from households, waste collectors and recycling companies.

Seven little habits that make a big difference

  1. Pick one recyclable. Start with one waste stream – paper is sometimes the easiest as there are multiple collection or drop-off options. Once you get the hang of it, start recycling plastic, glass or tin.
  2. Make space. Put a paper-only bin or box in an accessible place, preferably near your current rubbish bin. (Space permitting, you may want to have smaller paper-only bins around the house – bathroom (for toothpaste boxes and toilet roll cores), garage etc.
  3. Think before you throw.
    1. Recyclable: used office paper, cardboard boxes, milk and juice cartons, paper cups, newspaper, brochures and magazines, telephone directories, paper gift wrap (without foil) and damaged books that are not suitable for donation.
    1. Not recyclable: tissues and paper towels, nappies, sticky notes, wax- or foil-lined boxes, cement bags, dog food bags and laminated paper.
  4. Recycle it right
    1. White paper – Avoid shredding it unless it contains personal information as shredding shortens the fibres. Avoid crumpling used paper into a ball. Flat is best and takes up less space!
    1. Brown cardboard boxes – Flatten or fill them with other recyclables for an informal collector on refuse day.
    1. Pizza boxes and other food packaging – Scrape off food residue. If it’s really messy or greasy, tear off the cleaner parts and recycle those.
    1. Milk and juice cartons – Empty leftover liquids (and rinse lightly with used dishwater), lift the corners and flatten. Replace caps or push straws back in. This ensures that caps and straws do not get lost into the environment.
    1. Take-away coffee and soft drink cups – Paper-based cups are recyclable in South Africa. Empty leftover liquids and place cups in your paper recycling bin. Lids are made from high density polystyrene (like yoghurt tubs and bread tags) and are recyclable with your plastic items.
    1. Common household products – Cereal, toothpaste and medicine packaging can be flattened and added to your recycling bin.
    1. Newspapers – Keep old news clean and dry and recycle within three months.
    1. Magazines – While these are recyclable, they are less in demand by recycling mills. Consider donating age-appropriate magazines to crèches and schools.
    1. Egg boxes and take-away cup holders – These paper products are recyclable however they comprise a lower grade of paper and might not always be accepted by collectors. You can add them to your compost or use for paper crafts.
  5. Keep recyclable paper clean and dry. Don’t let liquids and food waste contaminate your paper as some paper starts to biodegrade when wet.
  6. Keep it in the loop

There are number of collection or drop-off options available depending on where you live.

  • Support a local recycling collector – they earn money for clean recyclables. Find out what else he or she collects, such as plastic or cans.
    • Check if your area is serviced by a collection programme.
    • Support a school or community centre if they have a recycling initiative for fundraising.
    • Look out for drop-off points at shopping centres.
  • Pay it forward. Get the family involved and use gentle encouragement to keep them recycling.

By making these small changes, you can make a big difference. When you see the reduction in your weekly waste-to-landfill, you will realise the positive impact you are making. Eventually it becomes second nature.

And Mother Nature will thank you.

Helpful resources

www.mpactrecycling.co.za | www.mywaste.co.za | www.sst.org.za | www.recyclepaper.co.za

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