A simple checklist for easy spring cleaning

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Every year, my wife and I make grand plans for spring.  

Keeping a weekend clear, we list all the things we want to achieve around the house, from re-grouting the bathroom tiles to clearing out what we call the Everything Else Cupboard (the one we open very carefully, in case all the junk falls out).  

When the Spring Clean Weekend arrives, we’re full of motivation, imagining the beautiful, clean, well-organised home we’ll be relaxing in by Sunday evening. 

Of course, it never happens. The grouting takes longer than expected, the cupboard turns out to be full of souvenirs that need to be reminisced over for at least two hours, the guinea pig suddenly needs the vet and we never get as much done as we planned.  

This year is going to be different. 

Speaking to friends and family, it seems everyone has this problem, so I’ve come up with a new four-step spring cleaning ‘system’ that means you can get all your jobs done – and have time to relax: 

1) List all the rooms in your house on a piece of paper. 

2) Note up to three things you want to achieve in each room. 

3) Each weekend from now onwards, complete your tasks for one room. 

That’s only three jobs per weekend. Easy, right? Even if you have a big house, you should be able to get everything done during the spring using the ‘Reece Method’.  

There’s one more step, which is hugely important to keep our environment clean too: 

4) You’re bound to find all sorts of junk you no longer want. Put it all in a corner, and once your jobs are finished for the weekend, recycle it! 

Much of what you throw out may still be useful to someone else. If your family and friends don’t want it, consider donating it to a charity shop. Clean clothes, furniture, toys, ornaments, books and media are all welcomed – a quick Google search will show up your nearest charity shops and the types of donations they take. 

Another option is to use community Facebook pages to give things away or sell them for a small charge. We got rid of an old coffee table through our local Facebook selling page last year – it was picked up within three hours! To get as much interest as possible, include a photo of the item in your post. 

Your trash is someone else’s treasure – unless it’s broken, of course. Even then, it might contain important materials that can be recycled to save our planet’s resources. Small electrical items like radios, toasters and calculators can be taken to the pink bin at your local library to be recycled, even if they don’t work any more 

Other waste can be taken to your nearest Essex County Council Recycling Centre – wherever you can, separate out any parts that are recyclable. It all helps! 

If you have anything really bulky and can’t take it to the tip yourself, the Council does offer a special collection for larger items at a small charge. You can book this via the Colchester Borough Council website. 

Lastly, if you’re anything like us, your house is full of the guilty evidence of empty Christmas selection tins. Don’t throw them away – they’re brilliant for tidying away smaller items like photos, receipts, screws, nail polishes, baubles… just label them so you know what’s what next time you have a spring clean!

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Recycling collections make way for Santa

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Can you believe it’s nearly Christmas? It certainly feels like it, with all the snow we had last week. Only days now until Father Christmas flies through the sky on his sleigh pulled by reindeer, bringing presents for the children of Colchester.

My son was concerned that Santa might not be able to get in as we don’t have a chimney, but we’ve fixed that by making him a special decorated ‘Santa key’ from cardboard and wrapping paper scraps. Hanging it on the outside of the door means the merry gift-bringer will definitely be able to enter on Christmas Eve, and I’ve assured my son that there’s ample parking for his sleigh at the roadside.

Of course, to accommodate Santa’s arrival and the bank holidays, other magical vehicles will be adjusting the day of their visits during Christmas week. 

I’m talking, of course, about the recycling and rubbish trucks that will come to take away all the wrapping paper, toy packaging, food waste and general evidence of our celebrations once Christmas Day and Boxing Day have passed. Lots of people have been asking me whether their schedules are changing over Christmas and the answer is yes, but only for one week.

Between 25 and 30 December, all our recycling and rubbish collections are going to be one day later than usual. For example, if your normal collection day is Tuesday, your containers will be picked up on a Wednesday instead. New Year’s Day Bank Holiday won’t affect collections, so all you need to remember is to put your rubbish out a day later than usual between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve.

The order of your Green and Blue weeks will stay the same, and collections will go back to your usual day the following week. If you live in a flat with a communal collection point, your collections will return to normal from Wednesday 27 December.

OK, our collection vehicles might not be magical, strictly speaking, but they are part of a process that turns your household rubbish into amazing, useful things. Most of the extra rubbish we generate over Christmas can be recycled:

  • Wrapping paper and cracker parts can go into your clear paper recycling sack, unless it’s covered in glitter or metallic foil, in which case it should go in the black general waste.
  • Turkey bones and other food scraps should go in the food bin. Many leftovers can be frozen or reused – find a feast of recipes at www.lovefoodhatewaste.com
  • Christmas trees can be sawn up and placed in your garden waste or given to St Helena Hospice with a donation – sign up for the charity’s Treecycle scheme at www.sthelenahospice.org.uk/get-involved/christmas-tree-cycle.aspx
  • Tinfoil from turkey and roast potatoes can be rinsed and then put into your glass and cans box.
  • Plastic trays from party food are fully recyclable and can be put into your clear plastic recycling bag.
  • Plastic nets used to store nuts, oranges and other produce can also go into the plastics recycling.
  • Unwanted presents might not be recyclable, but can be given to charity shops… or even re-gifted (don’t worry, I won’t tell)!

Every time you recycle something this Christmas, you’re giving a gift to our planet. Did you know that recycling just one wine bottle saves enough energy to power a home stereo for 24 hours? I think that’s pretty magical.

This is my last blog before Christmas – me and the other Recycling Zone Wardens will be out and about over the next week, though, so feel free to ask us your recycling-related questions, or leave me a comment! I wish you all a very merry Christmas, however you’re spending it, and a happy New Year.

See you in 2018!

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!

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!