All change!

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Today I have some big news.

This is my very last regular blog post!

I can’t believe I’ve been writing these posts for almost a year! Since the first one explaining the new recycling system in May 2017, we’ve covered all kinds of interesting topics – from creating a home recycling centre to busting myths, from what happens to your food waste to the weirdest things we’ve found in recycling. 

Writing the blog and answering your questions has been genuinely fun. Thanks to everyone who’s left a comment or given me feedback – you’ve taught me a lot about blog-writing and I hope you’ve enjoyed the posts, even the ones that included awful jokes!

I first started posting here when the rubbish collections changes were due to start back in June 2017. The changes got plenty of attention and we Zone Wardens were answering lots of enquiries from residents. Living in Colchester, I use the recycling and rubbish service myself and figured an ‘insider’ blog might be helpful to other residents.

If I’ve left you one thing with you, I hope that’s a change in the way you think about recycling – because recycling is awesome and every little bit makes a difference. 

Before I sign off, I’d like to say THANK YOU and recap my ‘Top 10 Recycling Tips’ (yes… one last nag!) 

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Like I said, change can be a good thing… and in my opinion there’s no change better than the kind that turns something old into something new and thrilling. Whether its old household materials being recycled into aeroplane parts, or a Zone Warden finishing his blog to focus on new projects, it’s what makes the world go round. 

I might be back with the occasional post, but for now I’d like to wish you all the very best for the future… and happy recycling! 

Reece 

Don’t be an Easter waster… recycle your egg packaging!

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Before we start, I want to make you a promise. 
This blog post contains absolutely no ‘hilarious’ egg puns.
Read on. It’s safe.

We all know how much packaging most Easter eggs come in. Foil wrappers, inside plastic shells, inside cardboard boxes… all for a thin chocolate shape full of air!

Kids love making things from the parts. My son made the plastic mould from his into an impressive aquarium last year, filling it with scrap-paper fish hanging from strings and pipecleaner foliage. We’ve still got it – but of course, you can’t keep 
all that packaging around the house forever.

You can, however, recycle it all! 

Foil can be put in your green box with the cans – it doesn’t matter if it’s scrunched up or folded, because a machine will hammer it all out into something that can be processed and reused. 

The plastic moulds, like most plastic packaging, can go into your clear recycling bag with… you got it… the plastics! And the cardboard can, of course, be recycled in a clear bag with the rest of your card. 

That’s all pretty simple and easy – we always recycle all the packaging from our Easter eggs and although we grumble about how excessive it is, at least it’s going to be turned back into something useful. Easter is all about new life, after all, and that plastic could go on to become anything from a home composter to a fleece jacket.

But I’m not here to tell you the basic stuff! 

To keep your black bins and bags as clear as your environmental conscience, follow my advanced tips for cutting down on waste this Easter:

Freezer feaster

Family coming round for a roast dinner over the bank holiday? Remember to freeze the scraps – there are tons of amazing recipes on Love Food Hate Waste which will save your wallet, waistline and waste-line. Plastic meat trays, vegetable packaging and foil can all be rinsed and recycled.

Eager taster

Scoffed an entire selection box of chocolates in a weekend? Don’t worry, you’re not alone! Those little boxes with the segmented trays make fantastic storage for small items like beads, screws and jewellery parts. They’re also great as palettes for mixing paint. If all else fails, the plastic and cardboard parts can be separated and recycled in a matter of seconds.

Creature keeper

Bunnies aren’t a good Easter present. They’re not easy pets and they take far more work than most people realise. If you already have one, though, it’s worth knowing that their bedding can be recycled in the garden waste bin. That goes for other vegetarian animals, too – our guinea pig Marcel is becoming a keen recycler with our son’s help! If you’re starting a compost bin this spring, remember it can also go in there and help your plants out later in the year.
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Easter decorations are becoming more and more popular. If you fancy festooning your house this year, go for trinkets that you can keep and use year after year. You can even make your own – salt dough and handblown eggs make beautiful, delicate family favourites – enlist little hands to help with the painting!

Hope you find my tips helpful – as promised, you’ve got all the way to the end without a single egg pun! I was going to sneak in an Easter rabbit joke, but I realised nobunny would carrot all. 

Happy Easter!

Keep on top of recycling with your new calendar

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Spring is almost here, and about time too!

Tuesday 20 March sees the Spring Equinox and the ‘official’ arrival of spring in the UK. Theoretically, after that we’ll start to enjoy warmer days, leaves on the trees and bluer skies. That said, Colchester famously once had snow in June, causing a county cricket match to be called off, so I’m not making any promises!

I can promise, however, that your new Recycling Calendars will be landing on your doorsteps this month. They’ll be delivered in the same envelope as your annual council tax statement, ready to be stuck on your fridge or corkboard for handy reference all year round.

Residents living in flats with communal rubbish collections should continue to follow the process specified by their landlord.

Last year’s calendars had a new look, featuring a useful quick guide to Green and Blue Weeks. This went down well, so the design team have kept the guide and revamped the look slightly so you can tell it apart from last year’s. You’ll be able to use it to check your collection dates, but also see which container different materials should go into.

Digital versions of the new 2018/19 calendar  will also available online from 1 April. You can download a PDF document or audio calendar by entering your postcode at www.colchester.gov.uk/recycling.

Last time I posted about new collection calendars, it was June 2017 and the new recycling system was just being introduced in Colchester. I’ve spoken to hundreds of people since then, answering all kinds of questions about recycling and waste, and I’m amazed at how much more of our rubbish we seem to be recycling.

I was thrilled when we reported that Colchester sent 33% less stuff to landfill in July-November 2017 than it did in the same period of 2016. That’s the weight of 22 blue whales!

That’s an amazing achievement in such a short time. Personally, I think it’s totally possible that one day our borough will recycle almost everything as technology develops and people become more and more aware of how important it is.

So, 2017/18 was a pretty good year. Here’s to an equally green 2018/19! While you’re waiting for your calendar, check out the rest of my blog for plenty of tips for environmentally-friendly (and wallet-friendly) living, or leave me a comment with your recycling and waste questions.

The strange things that get into bins

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During my time as a Zone Warden at Colchester Borough Council, I’ve been asked some unusual and intriguing questions – from “Can I still recycle paper if it’s crumpled into a ball?” (yes) to “I found a dead bird, can I put it in my food waste bin?” (no).

There’s nothing wrong with a curveball question – it keeps me sharp! It’s a bit different, though, when strange things start cropping up in recycling and rubbish containers.

At lunch on Wednesday, I was chatting to some of my colleagues in the collection crews. They told me about some rather peculiar items found in people’s sacks, bags and bins.

  • A whole paving slab
  • Live gun ammunition
  • A bag containing four party balloons, still blown up
  • Various knives
  • A 4.5ltr bottle full of whisky

So there you have it – we collect waste and recycling from Zones 1 to 6, plus the Twilight Zone!

Obviously, some of these examples shouldn’t have been anywhere near the rubbish. The paving slab should have been taken to a local Recycling Centre, where clean building materials can be recycled as hardcore.

Live ammunition must be surrendered at a police station or to a registered firearms dealer.

Balloons aren’t usually recyclable, but are best deflated before being put in the black bag or bin – apart from anything else, you won’t have the shock of a sudden bang from your rubbish when they pop! Knives should be wrapped in newspaper and placed in your general waste, while unwanted liquid should be poured out of bottles before they are recycled.

As well as things that don’t belong in the collection, there are some surprising items that are recyclable.

  • Bones and shells – Food waste
  • Clean kitchen and toilet roll – Paper
  • Cigarette packets (with foil removed) – Paper
  • Aerosol cans – Green box
  • Biscuit and baby milk tins – Green box
  • Worn-out white garden sacks – Clear bag for plastics
  • Plastic cereal liners – Clear bag for plastics
  • Bedding from non-meat-eating animals – Garden waste

The Council’s website has a  list of recyclable materials. If you have something unusual and aren’t sure whether it could be recycled or reused, check out Recycle This – it’s one of my favourite websites and is full of ingenious ideas!

If you’re still not sure where your unwanted item should go (or you’d like to test me!), leave a comment and I’ll be happy to help.

Plastic gives the whole planet the blues

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Did you watch Blue Planet II over the winter? I knew it was on, but I was so caught up with work and Christmas that I never watched it.

It wasn’t until the final episode that I started to see it all over my Facebook and Twitter feeds.

People who never usually post much about the environment were suddenly talking about the amazing creatures that live in the oceans, the clever techniques used to film them and, most of all, the enormous damage that humans are wreaking on them through our rubbish, especially plastic.

Well, obviously that caught my attention and last weekend, I finally got a chance to watch the last episode. It’s very powerful – you can see a clip about the impact of plastic on albatrosses on the BBC website.

In some parts of the ocean, there are over half a million pieces of plastic for every square kilometre!

Something that Sir David Attenborough said at the end of the Blue Planet II series struck home for me: “We are at a unique stage in our history – never before have we had such an awareness of what we are doing to the planet and never before have we had the power to do something about it.”

That perfectly sums up something I’m always telling people. So often I hear people saying “There’s so much waste, the stuff I recycle is just a drop in the ocean” – but actually, what we do as individuals is tremendously important to our planet. The more plastic we each recycle, the less needs to be made. When you recycle plastics at the kerbside in Colchester, they’re processed in the UK or Europe (none goes to China) and turned into new products, helping to protect our environment.

The average UK household produces an entire tonne of waste each year. You have the power to make a big difference!

Sounds like a massive responsibility… but actually, cutting down on plastic is really easy! Because of my relentless nagging, we’ve always recycled a lot in my house, but since hearing about the plastic problems in the ocean we’ve made some more little changes. Now we use (and waste) less than ever!

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If everyone reading this uses less plastic, all our little drops in the ocean could add up to a sea of change!  Tell your friends and family and help Colchester to do better.

How to reduce your food waste

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I had so many views on my post about what happens to your food waste, I thought it would be a good idea to look at ways of reducing your food waste, before it even gets to the recycling caddy. Here are my 5 top tips! 

Know how to keep your food fresher for longer 

Did you know that the way we store our food can make a big difference to how long it stays fresh? My first top tip is to keep your fruit and vegetables in the fridge, they really will last longer! However, bread will go hard in the fridge, so best to keep that in a bread bin. 

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Know the difference between ‘use by’ and ‘best before’

The dates on packaging can get confusing, so I hope these explanations help the next time you look at something and think about throwing it into your caddy 

  • A ‘use by’ date is found on perishable foods that could make us ill if we eat them after this date.  
  • A ‘best before’ date refers to the quality, rather than food safety. Eating food after this date is unlikely to be harmful. Eggs are the only exception, which should be consumed before their ‘best before’ date. 

Only cook what you need 

How often do you find you’ve cooked way too much pasta? I know it used to happen to me all the time! But it’s easier than you think to get it right. These are the guides that I found helped:  

  • A mug of rice will feed three people, watch this great 30-second video 
  • A portion of uncooked pasta should be the size of your clenched fist, this may look small but it doubles in weight when cooked 
  • A serving of meat should be the size of the palm of your hand (but not including your fingers) 
  • A serving of fish, such as haddock or Pollock, is the size of your hand, including your fingers 

Lovely leftovers 

It’s amazing how many meals you can make from one chicken. My favourites are curry, fajitas and risotto – be inspired by these recipes.  If you have cooked too much for your dinner, put some in a tub or bag and pop it in the freezer. Then if you’re going to be home late one night it’s a great ‘ready meal’ for one! 

Planning your meals

As I mentioned in my post last week, this is my best top tip for saving money on your food bills and wasting less. Before you go shopping, check your fridge, freezer and cupboard and think about what you need for the week and write a list. That way you won’t shop for things you already have. 

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But don’t forget to use your food waste caddy for all those little bits that can’t be re-used like tea bags, egg shells, banana skins and more! All our household food waste is collected weekly. If you don’t have a food caddy, pick a free one up from your local pick up point (sorry this is not available in flats at the moment unless directed by your landlord). 

So get ready, steady, cook!  

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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