Fun facts about the materials and waste that we can recycle.
This guide is for children and teachers to help aid them when learning about waste and recycling. There is a lot of valuable information and facts in this guide, you can jump to specific sections by using the links in the content table below.
1.Fun recycling facts for children
2.Why do we recycle?
3.Recycling: Some facts and figures
4.Recycling: More facts and figures
5.Learn about food waste
6.Recycling ideas for schools
7.What’s global warming about?
8.Recycling at home
9.Why we need to stop using landfill
11.What happens to my old TV?
12.What happens to recycled glass?
13.Why can’t we just burn our rubbish?
14.Recycling and environmental ideas for the classroom
15.Things you didn’t know you can recycle
16.Tips for living green
17.Can we get solar power?
18.A with a refuse collector
19.Recycling drink cans
20.Recycling steel cans
22.Fun recycling facts for kids
23.Facts about landfill
24.How to reduce waste in Schools
Fun recycling facts for children
Fun facts about cans
1. Aluminium cans are lighter than steel, and the base of an aluminium can is shinier. A magnet will stick to a steel can, but it will not stick to an aluminium can.
2. Making one can from raw materials uses the same amount of energy that it takes to recycle 20 cans.
3. The average UK household uses around 600 steel cans every year.
4. The aluminium drinks can is the world’s most recycled packaging container – worldwide over 50% of aluminium cans are recycled.
5. Recycling one aluminium can saves enough energy to power your TV for three hours.
Fun facts about glass
1. Around 14 million glass bottles and jars are sent to landfill in the UK every day.
2. Recycling one glass bottle or jar saves enough energy to power your computer for 20 minutes.
3. Glass can be recycled again and again – containers made from recycled glass are of the same high quality as those made from new raw materials.
4. Green glass bottles are made with up to 90% recycled glass.
5. The glass we recycle in the UK each year saves enough energy to launch 10 space shuttle missions
Fun facts about paper
1. The average person living in the UK uses around 200kg of paper every year.
2. Paper and card make up 40% of the waste collected for recycling from UK households.
3. For every tonne of recycled newspaper, we save 17 trees.
4. Recycling paper saves almost 80% of the energy needed to make paper from new raw materials.
5. It can take just seven days for old magazines and newspapers to be recycled into new ones.
Fun facts about plastic
1. In the UK we throw away around 455,000 tonnes of plastic bottles every year – equivalent to around 9.1 billion bottles.
2. It takes just 25 two-litre plastic bottles to make a recycled fleece jacket.
3. Recycling just one plastic bottle saves enough energy to power a 60W lightbulb for six hours.
4. Around 11% of our household waste is plastic and 40% of this is plastic bottles.
5. There are around 500 plastic bottles in a typical bale and you need around 20,000 plastic bottles to make one tonne.
Fun facts about waste in the UK
1. Each UK household produces over 1 tonne of waste per year. This is the weight of a small car.
2. In less than 2 hours the UK produces enough waste to fill the Albert
3. Every year, the average dustbin contains enough unrealised energy for 500 baths, 3500 showers or 5,000 hours of television.
4. On average, every person in the UK throws away their own body weight in waste every seven weeks.
Why do we recycle?
You’re probably already throwing paper into a paper bin, used plastic into one for plastic, and you’ve got a bin at home for bottles, jars and tins.
But why do we recycle as much rubbish as we can?
We’re saving the planet’s resources.
There’s only one planet Earth, and once we use up all of its useful resources, they’re gone forever. It’s becoming more difficult and more damaging to exploit some of these resources, so it makes good sense to recycle and reuse as much as possible.
Would you rather cut down more trees to make paper, or recycle old paper into new instead?
Recycling means less environmental damage. We don’t have to mine and quarry for more metals if we recycle old cans.
We’re saving energy (and money).
Making new things from raw resources takes up a lot of energy.
Recycling old materials requires far less energy than building from scratch.
The metal for a drinks can has to be dug from the ground as ore, get transported to a processing plant where it’s turned into useful metals, then taken – probably across the world – to the factory where it becomes the can.
Recycling old cans means we skip all the quarrying and processing, and we end up using just a fraction of the energy. And it’s cheaper, too!
We’re helping to save the environment.
All this mining, quarrying, cutting down trees and transportation pollutes the planet.
By recycling, we’re cutting down on bad greenhouse gasses that scientists agree cause climate change. The British government says that our recycling efforts alone are the equivalent of taking five million cars off the road – and we can still do much better than this.
Recycling also saves the environment in Britain by cutting down on landfill.
Landfill is when we bury rubbish in the ground that can’t be recycled. It can be dangerous, causes pollution of water tables, and we’re running out of space.
By being smarter about recycling, we can cut down on the amount of rubbish be bury in the ground, or burn just to get rid of it.
Recycling is important.
Recycling means we can make new products cheaper. It also means that we cause fewer greenhouse gasses, and millions of tonnes less waste to landfill. By recycling, you’re not just making a difference for future generations, but doing something that is important right now.
Recycling facts and figures
There are around 64 million people living in the United Kingdom, so it will hardly come as a great surprise to learn that we – as a nation – produced 200 million tonnes of waste in 2012 (the latest year for which figures are available).
Three-quarters of this waste (150 million tonnes) comes from construction and industry. The construction industry is responsible for half off all waste generated in this country.
Household waste comprises 14% of all UK output, which is 28 million tonnes, or something like half a tonne of waste for every man, woman and child. (In fact, it’s 437 kilos)
So, the big question is: What do you do with your half a tonne?
Government figures say that we recycle 43.9% of everything that we throw away. So, of your 437 kilos of personal rubbish, 192 kilos is recycled.
Now, that sounds impressive, but you need to remember that more than half is NOT recycled and that 245 kilos of non-recycled rubbish you’ve produced are either burned (and lost forever) or buried in a hole in the ground, in a process called “landfill”.
Let’s scale that back up again: 245 kilos (just short of a quarter of a tonne per person) means that 15.7 million tonnes of domestic waste is either destroyed or buried each year, in the UK alone.
This isn’t good enough, and both the British government and the European parliament says that more needs to be done. We – as a country – have set ourselves a target of recycling at least half of all our waste by the year 2020.
Are we winning? The answer – sadly – is no. While our recycling figures have improved tremendously since the year 2000, we’ve been stalled at around 43% for the last few years, while some European countries have pushed on to nearly 100% recycling.
Why is this?
Some countries have had a long headstart on recycling – Germany was recycling waste goods way back in the 1980s, while the UK had a strong tradition of using landfill.
The problem is that our landfill sites are nearly full, and we need to work out new ways of processing our waste. Unfortunately, we’re a crowded nation compared to somewhere like Sweden, so it’s hard to build waste processing plants near to towns and cities, and people object to the smell and the ugly buildings.
We’re coming up with some great ideas to recycle our household waste into new things. Sometimes it’s new goods, sometimes it’s compost, and sometimes it’s electricity.
We produce a lot of rubbish in Britain, and one way to stop so much waste is to change our lifestyles to we throw out less, to begin with.
Most of the rubbish we throw out can be recycled and reused so that it can be useful again.
For example, old plastic bottles can be used to make artificial fibres, and can actually come back as clothes.
An aluminium drink can is melted down into ingots, sold to manufacturers, and might become part of a car.
The biggest saving we can make through recycling in terms of energy – that’s petrol, gas and oil to power vehicles and factories that are all involved in making things in factories.
Making things from scratch takes a lot of energy. So, if we can start with recycled rubbish, it means that we’ve already got the raw materials together to make something new, saving tonnes of natural resources.
How much energy can recycling save?
It takes 24 trees to make a single tonne of newspapers.
Instead, recycling old paper saves 24 trees from being cut down, and also cuts down the amount of energy needed to make new paper by nearly three quarters.
Learn about glass recycling
The average family throws away up to 500 bottles and glass jars every year.
Glass is 100% recyclable, which means that every bottle you save is melted down and used again and again. The amount of energy saved in recycling just one bottle, compared to making glass from raw materials, will power your computer for half an hour.
Drinks cans are also 100% recyclable and can be melted down, sent to a factory and be back on the shelves within a few weeks of being thrown into a rubbish bin – but only if they’re recycled. In terms of energy, every recycled can, compared with making the metal from ore, will power your TV for three hours.
Bottles, paper and tins that were thrown into landfill are lost to us forever, and that’s just a waste of our resources.
How much more can I recycle?
Let’s look at some more figures.
According to the government, if the contents of the average British dustbin were recycled to its full potential, then the saved energy would power a television for 208 days.
We waste so much food that up to half of the contents of your bin could be composted. Food waste is one of our biggest problems.
Learn about food waste
Food waste is one of Britain’s biggest problems.
We throw away seven million tonnes of food from our homes every year.
The figure for hospitals, supermarkets, schools, restaurants and hotels is another seven million tonnes, which just goes to show the size of our waste food mountain.
The worst thing about all this food waste is that half of the food thrown away is perfectly good food that we could have eaten.
In a world where people are going hungry, it’s terrible that we are throwing away so much food. It’s also a huge waste of money as well.
How much does this cost?
The government says that the average family wastes £470 per year buying food that’s not eaten.
This figure goes up to £600 per year (or £50 per month) for a family with children.
For the whole of the UK, that works out at £12.5 billion in wasted money spent on unwanted food.
What’s the impact on the environment?
It’s huge. Seven million tonnes of wasted food uses a lot of energy to produce and transport to the shops. That’s all wasted energy (and money).
The government reckons the wasted energy and added pollution is about the same as that produced by a quarter of our cars.
What can we do?
The easiest way we can stop food waste is by simply buying less.
Many families buy far too much on their weekly supermarket trips, which means that food often goes ‘off’ before they have a chance to eat it.
If families planned their meals, they’d buy just enough to go round, meaning less ends up in the bin.
Don’t cook too much! A lot of waste food is because we serve up huge portion sizes which we can’t manage. Cook sensible portions, and cut out the waste.
Know the difference between ‘Best before’ and ‘Use by’. Just because you’ve got a day past the ‘Best before’ date doesn’t automatically mean the food is unfit to eat. Some foods are perfectly fine days and weeks after the best before date.
Don’t keep buying foods you don’t eat! Some families might buy a big bunch of bananas every week out of habit, let them go off, and buy another bunch all over again. Stop the madness! Only buy what you’re really going to eat!
If you must throw away food, compost it. Your council might even have a food waste collection.
Recycling ideas for schools
Your school, college or academy can do its bit to reduce waste and increase the amount of waste that we recycle in the UK.
Britain only recycles less than half of its rubbish, and we’re in danger of missing the 50% target we set ourselves for the year 2020.
That’s where schools and colleges come in because that’s where the recyclers of the future are.
Great recycling and re-use ideas from schools can be taken home and help drive down the mountains of waste that we produce each year.
We produce about a quarter of a tonne of rubbish per person every year in the UK, so that means we all have to think how we can produce less waste and make sure that what we throw away is recycled as much as possible.
Thinking about your quarter of a tonne:
How much do you think is wasted food? How would you deal with it?
How much is paper, or plastics, or tins and bottles?
In the classroom, you can start with some simple projects.
How about getting a special bin for your paper waste?
Do you bring in a disposable plastic drink bottle every day? Make sure that goes into a recycling bin, or invest in a reusable bottle that can be used for months on end. There’s every chance your drink bottle is made from recycled plastics – why not think about its journey? What do you think it was before it was your bottle?
It’s not just about recycling your waste
Now that you’re sorting your rubbish into special bins to make sure that it gets recycled, spread the idea across your school so that everybody’s onboard.
Your teachers and principal might be able to help by arranging the right wheeled bins for your school so that the right rubbish is taken to the right place. Most waste companies supply bins free-of-charge, and the less general rubbish (rubbish that can’t be recycled) that your school produces means that they pay less tax on it.
How about setting up a sustainable garden? See if you can start a year-round project in a quiet part of the school. Set up a garden that can grow food, or a wildlife garden that attracts insects and small animals. These projects can be handed down the years and get everybody involved.
How to recycle at home
If you like the idea of recycling and re-using in the classroom, take it all home with you and be the person in charge of recycling at home. In fact, your parents would be delighted if you took charge!
Get your family thinking about putting waste in the right bin.
Get your parents thinking about sensible shopping choices so you use less packaging and waste less food.
Save energy around the home by turning down thermostats and switching off lights when they’re not needed.
What’s global warming about?
Global warming – otherwise known as climate change – is the biggest threat to our planet at the moment.
It’s the gradual increase in temperature caused by man-made pollution and gas emissions which traps heat inside the Earth’s atmosphere and slowly increases temperatures.
The most dangerous gas is carbon dioxide, which while essential to plant growth in the lower atmosphere, is what’s known as a ‘greenhouse gas’ that traps heat in the Earth’s system.
That means temperatures are slowly rising, leading to the melting of the planet’s ice caps – which are increasing sea levels – and causing extremes of weather.
What are the effects of global warming?
Sea levels are rising. Low-lying islands and coastal areas are already in danger of disappearing. Some Pacific nations may soon disappear under the waves altogether.
Ice caps are melting. The Arctic ice cap is disappearing fast. It may not be long before a ship can sail over the North Pole in summer.
Climate is changing. This brings danger to ecosystems all over the world. Most obvious is the polar bear, which is losing its places to hunt on melting ice floes. But all over the world, man, animals and plants are finding challenges brought about by changing climate patterns.
Extremes of weather. More hot summers and cold winters. These extremes bring about more violent storms.
We get snow in the winter. How is that possible with global warming?
Climate change rings extremes of weather. That means that while we get increasingly hot summers, we also get progressively cold winters and an increasing chance of freak weather conditions and severe storms.
That means that severe snow is very much a part of the global warming process. While unseasonal snow makes the headlines all over the world, droughts and water shortages tend not to.
Anyone who points to snow and rain as ‘proof’ that global warming doesn’t exist is wrong. They need to know the difference between ‘climate’ and ‘weather’.
Some people say that man-made global warming isn’t real. Are they right?
No, they’re not. Over 99% of scientific studies point to man-made global warming being ‘very likely’ to be behind climate change.
People who spread the message of climate change denial are usually big corporations who are worried that their profits will suffer if they change their existing, polluting, ways. It’s said that the older generation don’t care as much about the state of the planet because they’re going to be leaving the mess to unborn generations to clear up.
What can we do to prevent global warming?
Changing global warming needs to be a global effort, and some scientists think we may already be too late.
However, we’ve already taken giant steps to tackle the problem, such as working on more efficient cars with lower CO2 emissions and making sure big companies don’t pollute as much.
Why we need to stop using landfill sites
For years, Britain has produced millions of tonnes of rubbish every year, and buried it in the ground.
This is a process known as landfill, and it means taking rubbish to a site outside of town, dumping it in a hole, and bulldozing it flat.
For a long time, we didn’t particularly care what we buried in landfill sites, because we weren’t too bothered about what happened after the bulldozers had piled soil on top.
Those days are over, and now Britain is making an effort to stop using landfill. Why is this?
The first reason is that we are running out of space. In a country of 64 million people, not many want to live near a landfill site, and those that we still have are filling up fast. The government says we could run out of landfill space within ten years unless we come up with something.
Then there’s pollution. Burying things may sound like a good idea, but dangerous chemicals leak into the water table and then into the environment. Can you imagine how many millions of old batteries are in landfill sites, leaking out their chemicals?
In many cases, it’s not possible to build on top of landfill sites, because organic waste buried there produces methane gas that has to be collected somehow or vented off. Nobody wants to live in a housing estate built on top of an unstable pile of dangerous rubbish.
Fortunately, we now have laws limiting the amount of rubbish that gets buried, and people are being encouraged to recycle more to cut down on the amount of landfill waste.
Companies have to pay a landfill tax, which means that there’s an £80 charge for every tonne of waste they produce. For most companies, this adds up very quickly, which means it makes financial sense to find better ways to recycle their rubbish.
One solution is “energy recovery”. This is a way of burning rubbish that can’t be recycled, but using the heat to generate electricity. This still has to be done carefully, as we don’t want to produce fumes and smoke that poison the environment, and people don’t like living close to the plants.
Fly-tipping: What you can do to stop it
Most people throw their rubbish in the bin without a second thought.
But you might know a few people that throw fast food bags, sweet wrappers and plastic bottles on the ground after they’ve finished with them. That’s called littering, and it’s not only a selfish thing to do, but it’s also illegal. If you’re caught, you could face a fine of about £100, depending on where you live.
Unfortunately, there are people who take littering a step further. They’re people who dump whole sacks or whole van loads of rubbish in the street or out in the countryside in an act that’s known as fly-tipping.
Who are these people?
Most people who commit this crime are doing it because they don’t want to take their rubbish to the tip. Usually, it’s a rogue trader – a builder, plumber, or some other tradesman – who has sacks of rubbish at the end of a day’s work and want to get rid of it quickly.
They break the law because they don’t want to pay the landfill tax that all companies and traders have to pay to get rid of the rubbish that’s not being recycled. Sometimes, they’re just being lazy because they know they might have to queue up to get their rubbish weighed. Other times it’s just because they don’t want to pay the fees.
What’s in their rubbish?
You might have seen piles of fly-tipped rubbish near where you live. It could be anything from old sofas and furniture to piles of rubble. Sometimes it’s tipped in industrial estates, sometimes on waste ground, but the worst are people who dump their rubbish in the countryside. A lot of rubble is dumped because it’s heavy and costs more to get rid of legally.
Sometimes this rubbish includes dangerous materials like asbestos or drums of chemicals. These usually need special handling, which means criminals will dump dangerous materials for somebody else to clean up.
Who pays for it?
Unfortunately, unless the culprit is caught, the cost falls on the person who owns the land. That means it’s usually farmers or local councils who have to clear up the mess, costing millions of pounds every year.
What can we do?
It’s best not to approach fly-tipped rubbish in case it’s dangerous. Report it to an adult, or your local council. They have an officer in charge of waste, and you can usually find their phone number or email address on the internet.
Don’t go near somebody if you catch them in the act. They’re breaking the law and might be dangerous. Try to memorise their vehicle registration number, so they can be reported to the police.
If caught, the law allows unlimited fines on the worst offenders because of the damage they’re doing to the countryside.
What happens to my old TV?
We live in what’s known as a consumer society.
That means that – apart from necessities such as food and clothes – we go shopping for things that can be seen as luxury items.
Computers, mobile phones, televisions, games consoles.
But what happens when they wear out?
No matter how long the manufacturers claim they last, the average television is replaced every five years or so. Britain’s switch from analogue to digital TV a few years ago resulted in tens of thousands of people getting rid of old TV sets to be replaced by modern models, and if you visit a rubbish tip on any day, you’re likely to see piles of ‘big back’ cathode ray televisions that have been replaced by more modern LED flat-screen sets.
The same goes for games consoles. They’ve got what’s known as ‘built-in redundancy’, meaning that they’ve only got a relatively short shelf-life before the makers replace them with a newer, funkier model with better graphics and new games that don’t work in the old version.
So, what happens to my old device?
In the old days, it would have been thrown into a landfill site and squashed flat under a bulldozer.
Now, companies have realised that they’re full of valuable metals that can be removed and recycled into other goods. We can now recover copper wire, gold, silver, platinum and other metals. Also, the glass from the screen, and the plastics that make up the case can find new uses.
The good news is that most local councils have now made it much easier to get rid of your old electrical goods. What’s known as WEEE (waste electrical and electronic equipment) can now be taken to special recycling points, usually near clothes recycling bins in car parks. Just dump your old toaster, and it’ll be taken away for recycling.
The government says that we can save the UK economy up to £200 million if we recycle our old electrical goods and up to £1.5 billion from the tonnes of precious metals that are extracted from old computers.
What happens to recycled glass?
Glass is one of those products that is 100% recyclable. Recycle your old glass properly and you’re contributing to a zero-waste economy.
Latest figures show that 1.65 million tonnes of glass is collected for recycling in Britain every year.
However, the figures for the UK aren’t that great. The government thinks that pubs and restaurants throw away 200,000 tonnes of glass in their general waste, which goes straight to landfill. That’s 200,000 tonnes of wasted resources.
In total, we recycle over 62% of all glass used. This is slightly below the European average, where countries like Belgium recycle virtually all of their used glass, followed by Netherlands and Sweden, who both recycle over 90%.
So, what happens to recycled glass? We visited a wine bottle factory (in France!) to find out.
Whether it’s glass from your kerbside collection, or from bottle banks, or from shops, restaurants and bars, it’s usually sorted into colours. Unfortunately, people have a habit of putting the wrong colours into the wrong holes on bottle banks, so it still has to be sorted when it reaches the waste transfer facility.
Then it’s loaded onto a truck and taken straight to the factory. Here, Monsieur Le Boeuf told us the process takes minutes rather than hours.
The green glass they take is dumped into a large hopper and straight through a kiln where it melts into a liquid. Then it’s passed through a former into the familiar bottle shape, but still glowing white with the heat. The rest of the process is allowing the glass to air cool so that eventually the production line is a line of green bottles. Each passes in front of a sensor, and any rejects are nudged off the line and sent straight back up on a conveyor belt to be melted down again.
Tens of thousands of bottles are made each day, and it’s a hot, noisy process. But by relying on recycled material, very few raw materials of glass (sand, ash and limestone) are needed apart from some colouring.
Monsieur Le Boeuf told us that using cullet – recycled glass – saves energy and raw materials, making the process far cheaper than manufacturing from new.
Glass doesn’t have to be recycled into new bottles or jars though. Some are used ion aggregates (such as for road surfaces), and also glass fibre.
Why can’t we just burn our rubbish?
If we could think of new ways of getting rid of the mountains of rubbish we produce every year, we’d use them.
Millions of tonnes of British rubbish goes into the ground every year in a wasteful process known as landfill. We’d rather not do it, because landfill sites are filling up fast, it can cause dangerous pollution, and the type of waste that gets buried can sometimes be easily recycled.
In fact, we only recycle about 45% of our rubbish, and we need this figure to be much, much higher.
So why can’t we just burn rubbish instead of burying it?
The fact is that in some circumstances, we can. But burning your rubbish in your back garden is about the worst thing you can do.
Burning things creates gasses, some of which are dangerous to the environment and are the cause of climate change. The two most common gasses released are carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, the first being a greenhouse gas, and the second being highly toxic.
Depending what else you burn leads to the release of other dangerous chemicals into the air. Plastics will produce toxins and acids that are dangerous when breathed in; and terrible for plant and animal life when they return to earth as rain.
Your neighbours will probably complain if you keep burning rubbish, and it won’t be long before you get into trouble with the law for acting anti-socially!
When is it safe to burn rubbish?
There’s a process called “energy recovery“, in which companies are allowed to burn rubbish to generate electricity.
Typically, it’s a big plant on the outskirts of town, where rubbish is taken and sorted. Waste which can be recycled is taken away again to be reused, while the rest is sent to the furnaces.
But what about all those toxic gasses? There’s some controversy here, because some of these plants are still pumping out pollutants. But they argue this is in a good cause, as the burning waste at least creates the heat to generate useful electricity.
Other, more modern plants, have filters which extract smoke pollutants, and the plume you see coming from the chimney is vapour from the cooling process.
Burning waste as energy recovery still isn’t perfect. Burned waste is lost completely, along with any recycling benefits it may still have; and environmental groups argue they still pollute.
Recycling and environmental ideas for the classroom
Teachers! You know how hard it is to come up with lesson ideas. Here are a few tried-and-tested ideas that go will with primary and secondary learning, and fit well into the curriculum.
Test your classroom’s creative and artistic skills with posters that encourage others to recycle more waste and to think of the environment. While this can be a straight art project, encourage ‘out of the box’ thinking to create posters that feature actual recycled goods.
Get pupils to bring in waste from home, and build ‘monsters’ out of cardboard etc. Once the term ends, recycle the monsters!
You need not even go out of school grounds for this – select groups of pupils to go round the school perimeter and pick litter. Have different litter bags so they can sort the waste into the right bags as they go along, and provide tongs or similar instrument so pupils don’t have to touch litter. Give prizes and/or recognition for the group that picks up the most.
We recognise there are health and safety risks involved, so discretion may be required: Pupils will be out of your site (unless they are accompanied by a classroom assistant), and there is the danger of picking up dangerous waste or coming into contact with faeces.
A long-term project that is gaining popularity in many schools. Create a nature garden in a relatively unused corner of the school. Pupils can log the plants and creatures that grow there. It’s best done in collaboration with other classes and year groups to instil pride in the work across that school. Some schools have planted flower beds and vegetable plots, or have even kept livestock. The sky’s the limit and encourages creativity, pride in a project, observation and teamwork.
Things you didn’t know you can recycle
It’s not just about paper, tins, and bottles, you know.
There are loads of different things you use around the house that can be taken away and recycled if you knew what they are and where you have to take them.
Here are a few of the everyday objects that you didn’t know had a second life.
It’s likely that you’ve got a water filter in your kitchen that gives you cool, clear water to drink. They last about a month before the filter becomes less effective and needs to be changed. They’re made out of plastic with the filter part typically being made from carbon granules. Both can be easily recycled, and you can take them back to the shop or supermarket from where they were bought, where there should be a bin.
Most people change their mobile every two or three years, usually at the end of their contract. Who wants to be seen with an old model, right? However, unless you’re the kind of butter-fingers who keeps dropping their mobile, most are still perfectly usable and can be recycled. The good news for most of us is that your old phone could be worth money, and phone recycling companies will buy and old phone from you. They’ll refurbish it and reuse it in developing countries. But even if you’ve got a really old model that’s not worth anything, you can still give it to charity, or drop it in an electric good recycling bin, where it can be broken up to recycle the metals inside.
Old hair dryer packed up? Got a new one for birthday or Christmas? Don’t throw it out – it still has an unlikely recycling value. In fact, some companies do a swap deal, where they’ll give you money off your new one if you hand in your old. They’re able to recycle the plastic shell, as well as the mostly-metal insides. Failing that, it’s perfectly good to go in a recycling bin for electricals.
Your old trainers may look completely worn out, but they’re still useful to somebody. Charities like the Salvation Army have shoe collection bins, and they’ll give better quality shoes to people who need them, or to sell in their shops. But if they’re not worth saving, your old shoes are still full of useful materials like rubber that can be recycled into new shoes, other rubber goods, and even road surfaces!
Tips for living green
It’s never too early in life to start living green. In fact, it’s younger people who are more likely to buy into the idea of sustainable living on a changing planet – after all, you’re the people who are going to have to live there.
What can you do to live greener?
Recycle: This can’t be said enough. Recycling your rubbish is one of the keys to sustainable living. Get into the habit of asking yourself if something can be recycled before you throw it in the bin. Even unusual things like electrical goods no longer have to be thrown into the bin. At home, recycle newspapers, junk mail and old magazines, and get into the habit of putting the right thing in the right bin. Old clothes can go in a clothes bank, even the ones that are virtually rags – they can be recycled into other textiles.
Food: retain wastes hundreds of thousands of tonnes of food every year. Help your family get into good food habits by only buying things you know you’re going to eat. Too often, we fill our shopping trolleys to the brim and end up throwing out food when it goes out of date. Think about food miles – buy fruit that’s come from British farms instead of being flown halfway round the world. You might love something like cherries, but it’s greener to only buy them when they’re in season in this country.
Energy: Turn lights out when you don’t need them. Don’t leave the television playing to itself when you’re all eating dinner in another room. Turn down your home’s thermostat by a degree, and only have the heating switched on if there’s somebody at home – you probably won’t even notice that it’s slightly cooler, and you’ll be saving pounds and vital fossil fuels.
Get on your bike: Sadly, we’ve got into a habit of being driven to school. But is it easier to walk or take your bicycle? Think of the petrol you’d be saving if you used your own energy to get to school. It always guarantees that you arrive wide awake!
How can we get solar power?
Most of the electricity we use comes from power stations. Most of these in Britain are powered by oil, coal or gas – these are fossil fuels which cause global warming, and there’s a danger that they may run out one day.
Other power stations are nuclear-powered, which is cleaner right up to the moment we have to deal with dangerous radioactive waste. Small parts of the country have wind power, wave power and solar power, but these figures are slowly on the rise.
More and more new houses are being built with solar panels, and many other houses are having them fitted. If you’ve got the space, you can even have a wind turbine on your house, but these are still very rare.
So, can your house get solar power, and how effective is it?
There are actually two options when it comes to using solar power. One is a solar water heating system – in which the power of the sun heats the fluid inside the panels, which is then pumped round to heat water in your domestic boiler. It can save up to a third on your family’s water heating bills, so it will take a very long time to pay for itself.
The other type is the photo-voltaic solar panel, or PV. These are the ones that actually generate electricity. The technology has come on leaps and bounds in the last few years, which means they’re much better at generating electricity than they were before. You don’t even need direct sunlight for them to be effective – just a south-facing roof and plenty of daylight.
Why do you think the roof needs to be south-facing?
The downside is that a system is expensive to install – an average one will cost over £6,000. But on the plus side, your family can save up to 40% on their electricity bill, meaning that the large initial outlay can be recouped within a few years. There’s also the chance of earning what’s known as a “feed-in tariff”, which is selling your electricity back to the national grid. Not only are you powering your own home, but those of your neighbours as well, and getting paid for it!
Q&A with a refuse collector
What is it like emptying bins for a living? We asked Dave, a council refuse collector of ten years’ experience about the ups and downs of working in waste management.
What’s your average day like?
Get to the depot about 5.30am, and hit the roads around six, doing a single mapped round. It’s not as hard as it used to be now that it’s all wheelie bins, but we’ve got to work quickly to get the work all done in time, as routes have got longer over the years. Then we drive over to the waste plant outside town, dump the rubbish with them, and back to depot and home. Getting up early’s not much of a problem for me anymore, and at least I get to finish at 1.30pm.
What’s the worst part of the job?
There’s loads of things. Nobody mentioned the early mornings with pouring rain when you go to the job interview, for a start. Then there’s people who fill their bins with rubble instead of getting a skip or taking it to the tip. Oh, and drivers giving you abuse because they think you’re blocking the road. We do a crucial job – what if we give their street a miss for a month or so? Oh, and people giving you grief. Be nice to your bin men (and ladies) people!
And the best part?
Nice people coming to say hello when you empty their bin. One or two people even offer us a cuppa on a cold morning. Finishing in the early afternoon.
Has the job changed since you started?
Absolutely. We only used to have a single round for general rubbish, but now recycling means we have extra rounds for glass and paper and the like. The glass one’s the best, the big crash of bottles is my favourite sound.
Don’t you – you know – smell?
Since we stopped carrying bins around and started using wheelie bins, you hardly touch the rubbish these days. Yeah, the truck has a certain aroma about it, but a good shower after work and you’d never notice the difference.
What’s the funniest thing you saw?
The wheelie bin filled with helium balloons. My mate opened the lid and they all flew out. Of course, it was April Fool’s day, and the kid who did it was filming it.
And the worst?
Smelly stinky nappies. Horrible.
Teddy bears on the front of dump trucks. Is it cruel?
Recycling drinks cans
You probably love a fizzy drink, but have you ever wondered what happens to the tin once you’ve finished with it?
The first thing that will surprise you is that the tins aren’t actually made from tin any more. In fact, they haven’t been made from tin for many years now. Instead, they’re made from aluminium, which is light, durable, and – most importantly – 100% recyclable.
How can you tell if your can is made from aluminium? Number one – it says so on the side with the recycling information. And number two – and you can test this yourself – it won’t stick to a magnet.
Virtually all recycled aluminium is used to create new drink cans. Britain gets through millions of them every day – eight billion ever year – and the industry relies on people like you recycling their empties to keep prices down. It’s much cheaper to create new tins from old than to go out and mine new aluminium somewhere else in the world.
‘New’ aluminium has to be extracted from its ore called bauxite, and it’s an energy intensive process. In fact, recycling old aluminium cans instead uses 95% less energy than using new aluminium from bauxite ore. Experts say that three-quarters of the aluminium in use around the world today is recycled. That’s because it never loses quality no matter how many times it’s used, melted down and recycled into new goods.
The big problem is this: No matter how efficient it is to recycle aluminium cans, there is always a loss to the system because people still throw their empties away into their general waste bin and they end up in landfill. Millions of cans end up this way in Britain every year, and burying them in the ground means they’re lost forever, and new aluminium has to be bought instead to replace them.
You can help the planet by always recycling your empty cans. Not only are you saving energy by using one of the most efficient materials to recycle, you’re also keeping the prices of drinks down as well.
Recycling steel cans
Steel cans – such as the ones your baked beans come out of – are easily recycled. Britain uses around 12.5 billion steel cans every year, but we only manage to recycle around half of them.
On average, your household gets through 600 steel cans every year, that’s about two per day. But what happens to your cans when you recycle them?
Steel is an alloy material made up of iron and carbon. The difference between steel cans and aluminium drinks cans is that the steel one attracts magnets. That’s a useful thing to know when it comes to recycling. Steel cans are much sturdier than aluminium ones – you can usually crush an old drink can in one hand. A steel can takes a lot more effort.
That means you can recycle your aluminium drinks cans in the same bin as steel cans. Large magnets at the recycling plant literally pull the steel cans out of the mass of waste, and they can be taken elsewhere to be reprocessed.
Like aluminium cans, steel cans are 100% recyclable. But the difference is that the reclaimed steel need not necessarily go to new cans the way that aluminium cans are. The steel can be used for virtually any process where good quality steel is required – such as in the building of new cars. You could actually be driving about in something that was once a baked bean tin.
While about two-thirds of all cans sold are made of steel, they don’t necessarily have to contain food. Steel is also used for paint cans, biscuit tins, and things sold in aerosols. Because steel is so widely used, only about a quarter of the average food can contains recycled steel. However, the material can be infinitely recycled, but the ingots produced need not necessarily go to a can-making plant.
We’re also using a third less steel to make cans nowadays. Thanks to improvements in technology, the walls of food cans are now wafer-thin, and a can weighs around 21 grams (that’s less than an ounce).
Recycle that old paper!
We throw away more paper and card than we do any other material.
Experts reckon that we get through 12.5 million tonnes of paper every year. If we recycled all of it, Britain would save itself millions of pounds in money, as well as enough energy to power about half the houses in the UK!
We’ve known for years that it makes sense to recycle our used paper, but the sad fact is that about half is either wasted by being sent to landfill to be buried in the ground, or by being burned and being lost forever.
Did you know:
Virtually every newspaper is now printed on recycled paper. It takes less than a week from throwing an old newspaper in the bin for it to reappear as a newspaper again. With an estimated 7,000,000 newspapers printed every day in Britain, that’s an awful lot of paper.
A very old joke used to go: “What’s the worst thing in the world? Second-hand toilet paper!” – Now virtually all toilet paper is made from recycled paper (though probably not recycled toilet paper, and it’s best not to think about that. But it ends up composted.)
Most cardboard is now made from recycled paper
And why should we recycle paper? It’s simple – it saves us from cutting down trees to make new paper. You need an average of 17 trees to make a tonne of paper, and despite trying to use as much recycled paper as possible, Britain’s demand for paper results in about 8,000 square miles of trees being cut down every year.
While it’s terrible to cut down all those trees, many manufacturers make sure that their paper is sustainable. That means for every tree that’s cut down to make paper, a new one is planted. By using managed forests, there is a steady stream of trees growing that will one day become paper without losing the total acreage of trees.
Facts about landfill
Landfill remains the primary method of dealing with waste in the United Kingdom. Although many businesses, councils, and households have got the message about recycling, around half of all refuse is still dumped into a hole in the ground and covered over.
Over half of our waste went into landfill a few years ago, but this figure has declined steadily in the subsequent years, but still remains relatively high.
The good news, however, is that figures for landfill of municipal waste have declined form and incredible 79% at the turn of the century to slightly less than half. Much of the decline can be laid at the door of the UK and European directives that urged an increase in recycling and other means of disposal. The Landfill Directive set targets to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill, the Landfill Tax of 1996 encouraged commercial operators to take steps in the right direction.
However, landfill remains an important part of disposal regimes for materials that cannot be recycled or disposed of by any other means. Landfill sites are constructed and operated to strict standards in order to reduce environmental effects, and most types of waste may be disposed of via landfill. Strict landfill directives mean that the amount of waste – and particularly hazardous waste – is being reduced, while operators are encouraged to recover what value they can from waste.
How does a landfill site work?
The waste is checked to make sure it is compliant with the operating permit.
Waste is then tipped onto the site, compacted and covered. This is to mitigate any smells and pests.
The waste is then decomposed. The decomposition process will result in gasses, notably methane, which has to be vented to safety. It is the evolving of gasses that makes former landfill sites generally unsuitable for further development for some time. One tonne of waste will produce at least 200 cubic meters of gas.
When the site reaches its capacity, it will be covered over with clay and other soils in a “cap”, which will eventually allow the land to be re-used for agriculture or other purposes.
Approximately 40% of Britain’s methane emissions come from landfill sites. However, careful management means that increasing amounts of the UK’s electric supply comes from gasses recovered from landfill.
What does Reduce mean?
The Waste Hierarchy explains that the best way to deal with your waste is to Reduce. Reducing waste means not producing as much waste in the first place.
The Waste Hierarchy shows the ways that we can deal with our waste. These ways are displayed in order, starting with the best way to deal with waste at the top and running down to the least sustainable way, or the way that benefits the environment least, at the bottom.
Why is reducing waste a good thing to do?
Reducing your waste:
- Saves the Earth’s natural resources.
- Saves energy and reduces the risk of climate change.
- Reduces the need for landfill.
How does Reducing, Reusing and Recycling my waste benefit the environment?
Reducing, reusing and recycling your waste benefits the environment in a number of ways. Firstly, it saves energy. For example, making an aluminium can from recycled materials uses 20 times less energy than making it from its raw materials.
Another benefit of reducing, reusing and recycling is that it saves the earth’s natural resources. For example, if aluminium cans are not used to make new ones, non-renewable bauxite must be mined to manufacture new aluminium cans.
Reducing, reusing and recycling waste also reduces the risk of climate change. For example, you can reduce food and garden waste by composting it to make a soil conditioner that helps your flowers and plants to grow. If food and garden waste is not composted, it usually breaks down without enough air which produces greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
Reducing, reusing and recycling waste also reduces the need for landfill. Much of the UK’s waste is currently send to landfill. Although there may always be a need for landfill, this is not a sustainable method of managing our waste in the long term as there is a limit to the amount of space available in the UK for landfill.
How can we reduce waste in schools?
There are lots of ways that you can reduce the amount of waste you produce in school. Here are some examples:
- Reduce the amount of paper waste you produce by writing on both sides.
- Reduce battery waste by using solar-powered calculators.
- Reduce packaging waste by avoiding over-packaged food at lunchtime.
Another good way to reduce waste is by composting. You can reduce the amount of garden waste and food waste that you put in the bin, by putting it in a compost bin instead. Here the waste breaks down with oxygen to make a soil conditioner that can then be used on your garden to help your plants and flowers grow.
You can use the compost bin for grass, twigs and leaves from the school grounds, as well as cardboard and some waste from your school canteen such as fruit and vegetable waste, tea leaves and egg shells.
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