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The UK produces more than 100 million tonnes of rubbish every year, with plastic items making up five million of that. Unfortunately, plastic is one of the main culprits contributing to environmental damage and it inhabits almost every area of our lives. Large quantities of waste are created as a result of increasing populations, accelerated by new lifestyle habits such as fast food consumption, next-day delivery and convenience.

Despite this, many of us are working towards creating a greener, more sustainable planet, including the team at Bywaters. Recycling is so important to reduce how much waste we send to landfill, and it’s likely you already know quite a bit about how to recycle properly, but what about your children? If you have small kids, it may seem like a tedious task to properly sort your rubbish, especially when you have a million other things to do. However, you can easily get them involved. Recycling with your children can be fun and educational! Here we break down what exactly recycling is, the processes and some fun activities to set up and help your little ones better understand how it works.

What is recycling?

Recycling is the process of collecting and sorting materials that would otherwise be sent straight to landfill, and converting these into new objects. It reduces how much waste is thrown away, conserves natural resources and saves energy. The best news is that most household items can now be recycled, helping you contribute to a sustainable future.

Why is it important to get your kids involved with recycling?

The world faces growing environmental problems, many of which relate to how much rubbish we create. From food waste and construction rubbish, to electronic waste and old clothes, we throw away so much and this contributes to a fast-growing waste problem. WRAP estimates that the UK generates 9.5 million tonnes of food waste yearly, while general household rubbish collected by the local authorities totaled 23 million tonnes in 2019/2020.

Disposal can have negative environmental impacts and cause serious harm. Any rubbish that can’t be recycled or reused goes to landfill, which is a major pollution source. While waste does rot in a landfill, it creates methane gas that traps heat in the air and contributes to climate change — this gas has 80 times more warming power than carbon dioxide over the first 20 years it reaches the atmosphere. In fact, greenhouse gases are the biggest environmental threat caused by landfills, producing 35-55% methane and 30-44% carbon dioxide. Not only is methane potent, it’s also flammable which can be dangerous if built up in large amounts. Other problems that arise from landfill include nauseous odours, unpleasant views and rat infestations.

Even the most effective method of disposal — incineration — damages the environment. When plastics are burned they produce toxic substances such as dioxins. The gases generated by incinerators cause air pollution and contribute to acid rain too, while the ash can contain heavy metals.

So, waste is a huge problem, and the only way to throw rubbish away without harming the environment is to reuse and recycle. Recycling has many benefits and can help reduce our environmental impact. For example, it reduces pollution, conserves materials, protects ecosystems and saves energy. More energy is used to make products from scratch than to reform old ones and reuse them. Recycling aluminium, for instance, saves 90-95% of the energy needed to make it from ore. We can save resources such as wood, metal and glass simply by doing our bit and recycling. What’s more, correctly sorting and managing household waste is simple and quick once you get the hang of it, so the minimal extra effort is worth the many benefits of recycling. It’s also one of the best ways to make a positive impact on the planet. And by getting your kids involved, there’s actually less work for you to do!

How are things recycled?

Items that can be recycled, such as glass, cardboard and food are placed into the correct bin provided by your local council or waste management service and then collected and transported to the right facility. There are different ways of recycling different items though. It’s not simply a case of collecting everything together and reusing it.

Glass 

The process for recycling glass, for instance, involves washing it then crushing and melting the material before moulding it into new jars and bottles. At Bywaters, this is how we recycle glass and we accept all colours and grades of the material. The stuff that doesn’t make the cut though, like fine fragments and low-quality glass is reused by the construction industry as aggregate.

Plastic

Meanwhile, plastics are recycled through a process of sorting, cleaning, shredding, melting and then remoulding. However, this tends to degrade the quality of the material, so new products can’t be continuously made from it. And not all plastics are easily recyclable.

Food 

Food can be recycled through a process called anaerobic digestion. This allows the food to break down naturally and releases methane in a sealed area. This is then captured, treated for purity and fed back into the National Grid for electricity, or is used for heat and transport fuels. Any material remaining is repurposed as high-quality fertiliser. Food waste can also be recycled through in-vessel composting, which involves mixing it with garden waste and letting it mature to become a soil conditioner. If you have your own garden, you can let your little ones compost themselves.

How to reduce your waste

Recycling your waste is very important and quite straightforward, but to reduce how much waste you generate, you need to be creating less in the first place. Doing so means waste management companies have smaller amounts of rubbish to manage and prevent from entering landfill. The key to minimising waste is through the reduce, reuse and recycle initiative which helps to reduce the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Many items we own can easily be reused, renewed or recycled. For example, old clothing can be given to charity to be loved by someone else, electronic devices can be repaired while most materials are recyclable. Here are some ways you can reduce your waste.

Upcycling

Upcycling refers to reusing items, such as clothing and furniture, in a way that allows you to create a higher quality or value product than the original. That sad looking chest of drawers in your bedroom? Upcycle it simply by repainting or using a stencil to give it a new look. Or you could get stuck into some DIY, such as constructing a table from unused wood. Upcycling has many environmental benefits, including reducing landfill waste and natural resource usage.

Separate your rubbish

Separating your rubbish properly is key to effective recycling. Many local councils and waste management companies can provide multiple bins for different purposes, such as dry mixed recycling, food waste and garden waste. However, if you’re unsure about recycling certain items, like batteries and light bulbs, but know they can be recycled, we recommend separating them from your rubbish. You can then store these until you know where and how to dispose of them properly, instead of contributing to unnecessary waste.

Reduce the purchase of one-use items

Single-use items, like plastic for instance, are detrimental to the environment, so it’s best to avoid them where possible. Swap these single-use products for more sustainable ones. For example, your plastic water bottle for a reusable stainless steel one, a plastic toothbrush for a bamboo alternative, and reuse your tupperware pots instead of using clingfilm. 

Create a compost heap

A compost heap is a great way of disposing of food and garden scraps. While most people just throw things like potato peelings, banana peel and avocado skins straight in the bin, you can actually reuse these and prevent waste from piling up. Best of all, you don’t need to be an expert gardener. All you need is a compost bin situated on a level, well-drained spot. Layer a good mix of browns like dead leaves and branches, and greens like grass clippings. Then it’s ready to fill with your food and garden waste. When your compost is ready, you can use it on your flower beds to help improve soil quality.

Repair broken items yourself

Overconsumption and planned obsolescence has led us to believe that a broken item should be thrown away and replaced with a brand new version, but this has negative environmental effects — production uses lots of energy and resources. Instead, if something is broken, figure out if it can be fixed before chucking it away. For example, if your washing machine breaks down, identify the problem and see if it can be repaired. This will help avoid items being thrown out so often. If you don’t know how to fix something, take it to a repair shop. While this will cost, it’s more bank account friendly than buying a new product.

How to tell what can be recycled

Almost all packaging nowadays has recycling symbols to let you know whether a material can be recycled or not, and how to properly dispose of it. From soft drink cans and water bottles to shampoo containers and bread bags, they all have specific guidance. 

There are many symbols to look out for, providing information such as to rinse before you recycle, recycle with the lid on, and do not recycle packaging sleeves. Meanwhile, a Mobius loop indicates that an object is capable of being recycled and sometimes includes a percentage figure explaining how much of the material is recyclable. There are also plastic resin codes which identify the type of plastic used, as well symbols for recycling glass, aluminium and steel. Others may state to check your local recycling facility, if something is compostable and whether a product is made of recycled materials.

Recycling games and activities for kids

Now it’s time to get your kids involved and teach them what can be recycled and what can’t.

Recycled collage

Your kids can learn more about different materials by reusing them in art projects. For example, they can make a cool collage out of these. This is a fun activity which requires little effort and resources while encouraging your children to be creative — they can discuss objects and discover how they can be recycled. All you’ll need is old magazines, newspapers and cardboard, scissors, glue and pieces of card to collage on. Cardboard and paper are great as kids can easily shape and mould them, while the materials can also be painted. Magazine clippings are another good option, providing different colours and words to play with.

Toilet paper-roll bird feeder 

While you can recycle your empty toilet roll holders, an exciting way to reuse them with your children is to create bird feeders. Instead of recycling the cardboard, you can feed the wildlife in your garden. It’s a simple craft that’s a lot of fun for kids of all ages. To make these bird feeders, you’ll need toilet roll holders, peanut butter, bird seed, twine and a popsicle stick. Using the stick, coat the toilet roll holder in peanut butter, then

roll it in bird seed until it is completely covered. Then thread a piece of twine through the toilet roll and knot, and hang it in your garden.

Mini landfill 

You can teach your little ones how landfills work by creating your own mini version. For this activity, you’ll need a cardboard box, mud, clay, and pieces of rubbish. Line the bottom of the box with clay then a layer of mud, this will act as the base of your mini landfill. Next, give your kids free reign to fill up the box with pieces of rubbish. As they do this, you can explain how landfills work and what happens to the rubbish. This video is a great way of explaining. The next step is to place it aside and wait to see how long it takes the waste to decompose.

Reusable vases 

It’s likely there’s a few glass bottles in your house that you can use for this activity. This is a fantastic way of giving old bottles a new life. The aim is to decorate them and use them as flower vases around the home. You’ll need glass bottles, glue, paint, stickers and embellishments like ribbons, rhinestones and glitter. Although, if possible, it would be better for the environment if you use more eco-friendly crafting supplies, such as biodegradable glitter, natural paint, and homemade glue. First, clean the bottles properly, then give your kids a paintbrush to cover the glass in a colour of their choice. Set out a variety of supplies and let them get creative and stick the decorations to the bottles. Once dry, these are perfect vases!

After reading this, we hope you better understand the process of recycling and how to get your kids involved without it being too boring.

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