Out with the old and in with the new

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Some of our Christmas traditions are a bit strange, when you think about it – like bringing a tree indoors and dressing it up! It’s even stranger when you think that all those real trees have to be thrown out in January.

Luckily, the wonderful people at St Helena Hospice are one step ahead and are already inviting people to register for their Colchester Treecycle scheme. 

For a suggested donation of £7.50, they will collect your real tree from your home on Saturday 6 January. They’ve covered postcode areas CO1 to CO9 for years and are now expanding to CO13 too. All you need to do is registerbefore noon on 4 January to receive the service. Donations go to the hospice, which supports local people with incurable illnesses and their families. 

I’ve already got some presents to go under my tree. On Saturday, my son came downstairs with his yearly Christmas wish list. Father Christmas and I have reviewed it, and although we agreed that he probably won’t be getting the “pet octopus” that he asked for, the rest of the Christmas shopping and wrapping has now begun! 

Some of his new toys involve batteries, whichI’m sure he’ll wear out pretty quickly. I prefer reusable ones – recharging saves me a trip to dispose of them and are much cheaper in the long run. Disposable batteries can’t be put in your black bin or sacks, because they’re hazardous and can leak toxic chemicals. If you have some, look for a battery container at your local library to dispose of them safely. Many supermarkets take them too.  

My own wishlist is much less exciting… I’m hoping for a new electric toothbrush! It might surprise you to hear that the old one, which broke recently, won’t have to go in the bin. You might not think of toasters, hair straighteners or music players as recyclable, because they contain so many different materials. However, many libraries in Essex have pink bins where you can recycle what’s called “small WEEE” (I’ll try not to make any jokes – it stands for Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment).  

Everything in those bins gets dismantled and, wherever possible, used again. Electronics are full of complicated, expensive parts that can either be reused or broken up and recycled for the materials. That goes for broken Christmas lights too.

The WEEE bins are only for small things that can be easily carried, but if you’ve got larger electronics, you can take them to the Recycling Centre or book a bulky collection.

All this shopping and planning is putting me in the festive mood – I’m really looking forward to Christmas this year, even if it isn’t going to involve a real live octopus! How are your preparations going?

Leave the big footprints to Santa

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Houses shining with decorations. Piles of wrapped presents. Tables (and stomachs) groaning with food. I love Christmas, but even I recognise how wasteful it can be.

Me and my wife are pretty environmentally friendly, but we often let it slip at this time of year. There’s so much in the shops to tempt us, from special food to throwaway gifts, and it’s all justified spending – after all, it’s Christmas!

This year, we’re making a big effort to make our festivities more sustainable and avoid that January guilt when we look at our rubbish pile (and our budget… and our waistlines!). My colleague Trevor at the Recycling and Waste depot has been doing this for years… he says it’s easy to have a wonderful Christmas without leaving a big footprint on the environment. All you need to do is follow five simple steps:

It’s about people, not things

The shops are stuffed with novelty gifts that look like an easy present solution, but do your friends and family really want train-shaped shot glasses or desktop basketball hoops?

Instead of quick buys that’ll be shoved in a cupboard by New Year, give something they’ll really want. Experience days and vouchers are always well-received. If you’re good at crafts, make something they’ll treasure. For a close friend or relative, consider making your own ‘coupons’ promising them the most precious gift – your time, whether it’s a day out, control of the TV remote for an evening or a job around the house.

Save paper

Every Christmas the UK uses enough wrapping paper to circle the equator nine times! Make your own cards and wrapping paper from magazine pages, music sheets, old maps and so on, or give reusable gift bags. The Japanese art of Furoshiki, wrapping presents in printed fabric, is catching on in a big way – you can use a pretty scarf and make it part of the gift.

If you do use paper, remember foil and glitter can’t be recycled. And keep the fronts of the cards you get – they’ll make awesome gift tags next year.

Don’t bring it home

There’s nothing festive about plastic bags, no matter how bright and jolly they look – they are terrible for the environment. When you go Christmas shopping, take your own bags. If you forget, you can put purchases from different shops in the first bag you’re given, instead of collecting new ones each time.

Some shops also now offer e-receipts, which save paper, are harder to lose and easier to find.

Clear your freezer

Use frozen food in the weeks leading up to Christmas so the freezer is as empty as possible on Christmas Eve. That way, there’s plenty of room for leftover party grub. There are loads of delicious, easy, clever recipes to use up every bit of your food at www.lovefoodhatewaste.com

Plan meals and parties

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If you’re having multiple groups of friends and family over, try to plan things so you don’t buy too much food. We’re having a roast turkey on Christmas Day. I know there’s going to be lots left over, so I’m also buying part-baked rolls and having friends over for turkey sandwich lunch on Boxing Day.

We’ve stocked up on plastic containers too, so we’re ready to freeze lots of roast potatoes and turkey-based dishes… looking forward to a stress-free, budget-friendly New Year with all that delicious ready-made food just waiting to be snaffled straight from the freezer!

None of that looks too difficult to me. I’m looking forward to reaching New Years’ Day with a full freezer, a happy bank account and no guilty conscience this year!

If you’re joining in, leave a comment letting me know how you get on… I’d love to hear any tips you have!

What’s true and what’s a load of rubbish?

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Food Waste 41.jpgThe best part of my job is getting out and about on door-to-door rounds. If you’re a natterer like me, there’s nothing better than meeting lots of new people, answering your questions and helping you to recycle.

Some topics crop up time and time again. Alongside “Where did you get that fetching CBC t-shirt?”, some of the most frequently asked questions are to do with putting rubbish out for collection.

There are a lot of myths about where recycling and household rubbish can and can’t go, but actually the policy is quite simple. In one sentence, it boils down to this:

Household rubbish and recycling can go out on collection day on the boundary of your property and should be separate from your neighbours’ rubbish.

Of course, everyone’s home is different, and that’s why I’m here to help! I’ve turned some of the most common questions into a list of FAQs for you:

Can I put rubbish and recycling out on the verge?
It’s completely fine to put your black bags/bin and recycling on the grass or near the roadside if you need to, as long as it’s only on your collection day.

What if I live in a flat?
If you live in a flat, your landlord will be able to tell you where to put materials for collection.

Don’t the Council give fines for putting rubbish in the wrong place?
There are only two reasons that the Council would issue a Fixed Penalty Notice for waste. One is if you deliberately move your rubbish somewhere to conceal it and cheat the black bag/bin limits. The other is if someone consistently puts out too much black bag/bin rubbish and doesn’t bring it back onto their property – an unpleasant situation for the neighbours that would result in warning letters and then a Fixed Penalty Notice.

What time should my rubbish go out?
To make sure it’s collected, it’s best to put your recycling and waste containers out before 7am on collection day. And to keep the pavements clear, everyone should bring them back in as soon as possible after the collection vehicles have done their work.

How much space can my bags/bins and containers take up?
Badly placed containers can block the pavement, forcing people with wheelchairs or pushchairs into the road and potentially putting them in danger. When you put your bins out, ask yourself if someone in a wheelchair could get past and try to place them in a considerate way.

What should I put out this week?
In Colchester, we work on an alternating Green/Blue Week system. On Green Week, we collect plastics, garden waste, paper and card, clothes and shoes. On Blue Week, it’s glass and cans, plus black bins and bags. And food waste is collected every week. You can find your timetable at www.colchester.gov.uk/recycling

When does putting rubbish out become fly-tipping?
Illegally-dumped waste is damaging to the environment and unpleasant for local people. If someone leaves piles of rubbish or bulky waste in the street, a public area or private land when they know it won’t be collected, they may be prosecuted for fly-tipping. If you think someone is doing this in your street, you can report it on the Council’s website.

That’s it in a nutshell (which, by the way, you can recycle in your food waste caddy… okay, I’ll stop!).

I hope I’ve helped with any recycling questions you have. That said, if you see me out and about in your street, please still come and say hello… and keeeeeeeep recycling!

 

Make, Munch and Mulch this Halloween

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shutterstock_173865542You may have picked up on this, but I think recycling is brilliant! Sometimes, though, there are even better ways to deal with our rubbish, especially garden and food waste. A lot of the stuff we send off in our garden waste white sacks/brown bins and green food waste caddies is actually really useful.

Take pumpkins. This Halloween, 18,000 tons of the big orange squashes will be thrown away after a hard night’s work scaring people, but they can do so much more. Follow my easy three-step guide to make the most of yours:

Make your jack o’lantern, scooping out the flesh and seeds and putting them to one side.

Munch on the delicious insides of the vegetable. Pumpkin soup is lovely with a little spice, as is American-style pumpkin pie…mmm. We always give a little bit of the flesh to my son’s guinea pig Marcel too. I wash the seeds and toast them with a little chilli for a crunchy, healthy snack, but if you like, you could save them and grow your own pumpkins for next year!
Once Halloween is over and the lantern starts to sag…

Moulder it down in your compost bin, if you have one, or chop it up and put it in your food waste caddy. If it’s too big, just leave it on top of or next to the caddy. In Colchester, food waste is collected every week on your normal collection day, so it won’t be there for long! Any leftover Halloween party nibbles will go in the caddy too.

Pumpkins would be nothing without an autumn backdrop of orange and red leaves. My driveway is already covered in them!

I rake them up and, once my son has jumped in them for a bit, I turn them into leaf mulch. It’s like a warm blanket for the roots in your garden, keeping them protected through the frosty winter to come. It’s easy to do:

Make a big pile of leaves and keep them as dry as possible to make shredding them easier.

Munch them up using a lawnmower. Chopping the leaves turns them into… 

Mulch, which you can spread straight away underneath trees and shrubs. It will insulate them from the cold weather, prevent weeds growing and, eventually, rot down into nutrients for the soil.
I can’t believe I used to throw away such useful stuff. Try it yourself – if you don’t have a compost bin, you can get discounted ones at https://getcomposting.com.

If your pumpkin is part of your Halloween party decor, don’t forget you can recycle other things too! Think paper plates (in your paper clear recycling bag), sweet wrappers (either paper or plastic clear recycling bag), old Halloween costumes (in your textile clear recycling bag or give them to charity). All of these are collected on a Green Week.

Have a wicked Halloween, everyone… and keeeeep recycling (we’re back in Strictly Come Dancing season now)!

Squirrel away your garden waste

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As the days get shorter, my garden is suddenly very popular with squirrels. Watching them bound about, gathering acorns and storing them up, got me thinking about how we humans prepare for winter.

If your garden is anything like mine, autumn is a super busy time. Collecting windfall fruit, raking leaves, dead-heading and putting the plants to bed… it’s the last big push before the frost starts!

All this garden activity means our bins and sacks are stuffed full. Every collection, you can put out four white garden waste sacks, or one brown wheelie bin with the lid closed, for recycling.

Even better, you could compost it at home – that way, all the energy put into those plants during the summer goes back into your own garden! It also means the waste doesn’t need to be transported, so there are no CO2 emissions. Take a leaf from the squirrels’ book and save some of the season’s bounty for yourself.

Already a keen composter? This is the time of year to turf out all the lovely goodness in your compost bin and dig it into your garden. That’ll give you plenty of space to squirrel away more compost throughout the winter.

If you don’t have a compost bin yet, good news – householders in Colchester can get a discounted compost bin for under £10 from Essex County Council. You can order them at www.getcomposting.com.  Buy two bins and you’ll get a third one free, so it’s worth clubbing together with a couple of neighbours!

I used to fill up my four white sacks in autumn, but since discovering composting almost everything goes into my mulch. If you need some, though, you can now get up to four free of charge. All you need to do is download a voucher from www.colchester.gov.uk/recycling and take it to a local stockist.

To make sure your winter compost is of the very best quality, follow my top tips:

  • Keep it toasty – the tiny creatures that turn waste into compost don’t like the cold, so wrap your compost bin up warm! I’m not suggesting you buy it a scarf, but some snuggly leftover bubble wrap from a delivery or bags of leaves should do the trick.
  • Layer it – the key to great compost is to layer browns (dry, woody stuff like old leaves and sawdust) and greens (wet, recently-alive stuff like food scraps and grass cuttings). You’ll want about half of each.
  • Leave it alone – during summer, compost should be turned to get air into it. In winter, this can make it cold, so keep turning minimal.

In the spring, you’ll be able to kick-start your garden’s growth with some wonderful, rich compost. Your garden will thank you – and so will our environment!

Recycling, anything but rubbish

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When you think of things in glass cases you think of the crown jewels, millennia-old mummies or priceless paintings. But nothing is more exciting to me than seeing an old ready-meal container given the credence it deserves.

In the reception of the Closed Loop Recycling centre in Dagenham, unassuming and understated, sits what once contained someone’s tea – Mango Chicken and rice from M&S no less.

It’s thought to be one of the first plastic containers made entirely from recyclables and is real-life proof of the good recycling can do. Give it a quick wash if you do want to use it though.

So whilst this blog is all about the fun you can have with recycling – and I have great fun writing it – we here in Colchester have been making some real difference.

From 25 September to 1 October it’s Recycling Week – pretty much my Christmas – and the theme this year is “Recycling – It’s worth it”. That was true when it WRAP launched the week back in 2004 and now, more than ever, what we do at home makes all the difference to the green cause.

Just look how far Britain has come as recyclers. Back in 1995 we only recycled 7.5% of our waste and now Britain is way up there at 44%. Keep it up guys and we will hit the EU target of 50% long before the predicted 2020.

And just so you can brag, you recycling heroes in Colchester recycle 51.5% of waste already, 7.5% higher than the average across Britain. Just wow!

But what does this all actually mean?

Well, that’s where it gets exciting (for me at least). For example, when you recycle your can of fizzy drink you are saving 92% of the energy it would take to make one from scratch. So really 10 cans can be made from recycled materials where new materials could only make one.

Find out what happens to your cans in Colchester by looking at my bog post ‘Recycling Turns Things Into Other Things Like Magic’

Recycle a hundred cans and you offset the emissions that come from a hundred-mile car journey. It all adds up.

By the time you’re recycling at the scale of that plant in Dagenham, it’s the same as taking 14,000 cars off the road each year.

It really is that effective and that’s what Recycling Week is all about this year. Let’s make sure people know the benefits of recycling and keep making it easier, and more fun, to seek out those recycling containers.

If you want more information on recycling in Colchester visit: www.colchester.gov.uk/recycling

Throughout Recycling Week (25 September to 1 October) I’ll be helping to post some hints, tips and messages through the Council’s Facebook /EnjoyColchester and Twitter @YourColchester pages – so follow us to find out more.

And remember star recyclers, It’s Worth It!

Recycle like it’s going out of fashion

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The cycle up North Hill in Colchester town centre is a daunting one. But the problem becomes much worse when you realise – half way up – that your favourite pair of trousers have ripped at the seams.

I was resigned to buying a new pair but then I got to thinking. This year alone, we in Britain have thrown over 200million items of clothing into landfill – so I invested in a needle and thread instead.

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As it goes, just about every bobbly jumper, torn bed sheet or stained shirt can find a better home than simply being tossed away. Here in Colchester just about any kind of fabric or textile material can put in one of our clear recycling bags on a Green Week, including any shoes. The only things that you can’t include are duvets, cushions, muddy/oily rags or paint sheets. See the full list of what you can include here.

Your recycled fabrics will take on a whole new life as seat stuffing, cleaning cloths or industrial fabric. If you’re reading this on the bus you might be sitting on what was once my old Led Zeppelin t-shirt.

What if you can’t quite bring yourself to recycle that misjudged pair of trainers but you’re sure you will never wear them, not in public at least? Don’t worry, you have a few options.

You could donate them to one of Colchester’s charity shops. These do a wonderful job of reselling your items, provided they are in reasonable condition, and raising money for a great cause. If you make a clothing donation, take the time to look around a bit. It’s cheaper for you and better for the environment to pick up your new threads second hand.

Or you can offer bits to your friends and family, you never know what they might need. Plus you get to watch them enjoy your old stuff safe in the knowledge you’ve made them happy and helped the planet.

By far the most fun to have recycling old textiles is to turn them into something new entirely. Try turning a favourite jumper into a cushion, fixing up an old backpack with some sparkly bits or turning an old sock into a toy for your cat. Sounds weird, but that’s what the awesome guys overs at loveyourclothes can do. They’re the people that showed me how to fix my little rip situation.

Of course, whilst it’s nice to know that the fabric in my trousers can be recycled, I reckon they have a few more quality miles yet.

So get inspired by old socks, excited about stinky shoes and as always remarkable recyclers, thanks for reading.