Thursday, 21 May 2009

A new lexicon for recycling

If you’re not ‘recycling’ some things at least some of the time, we have only one question? Which planet are you from and how recently did you arrive on Earth? It’s good to recycle but you also need to embrace a much broader set of principles to be a true Make it and Mender. Here’s our 're’ glossary to help you.

recycle – ensure that as much as possible is reused or reclaimed in some way. Thoughtful and careful rubbish sorting is all you need to achieve this.

Consider recycling as your last resort. The 2 ‘life steps’ that should always proceed recycling are reduce and reuse.
  1. Cut your consumption by careful shopping, so, for example, less food goes off.
  2. Compost any vegetables that can’t be used (because they’re too far gone for even soups and stews) and avoid packaged and wrapped items as much as possible.
  3. Reuse as much as you can – such as plastic drinks bottles. Try and buy fewer bottled drinks by always taking a drink out with you.
  4. Here are 2 things to do with plastic drinks bottles before you put them in the recycling:
  • Use them again to carry a drink in!
  • Cut the base off, remove the screw top and stick them (upside down) in the ground next to thirsty plants. Immerse about 2 to 3 inches of the upturned bottle into the ground. (You may also need to secure the bottle by driving a plant support into the ground and through the mouth of the bottle so it doesn’t fall over.) Water your plants via the bottle. This reduces the amount of water run off and directs the water towards to plant roots where it does more good.
We have some great tips to help you reduce and reuse >> Check out our Inspired recycling ideas
You can also find out more about >> Using leftovers , with a whole page dedicated to >> mashed potato tips.

upcycle – take something that was designed to be disposable and give it a second (hopefully more permanent) life and a higher value. The true principles of upcycling can be learned from, so called, ‘third world’ countries where upcycling skills have been developing for centuries.
Upcycling has been embraced as a clever way of dealing with our excessive consumption and waste - but beware. True upcycling is not about enthusing over abstract art created from paper coffee cups, only to carry on ordering takeaway (guilt free) lattes.
How to Upcycle:
As with recycling – the first step is reduce. If you do like your coffee from Starbucks, or Café Nero, take your own travel mug and get them to fill that.
And all of us should be campaigning to reduce the amount of items that are designed to be ‘disposable’ and or come with ‘built in obsolescence’.
Where we do need to upcycle, the emphasis should be on the practical first and the pretty second.

Here’s a great home and garden upcyling project: this comes courtesy of Anne’s cousin John who has been experimenting with using old tyres as planters.
The simplest way of using them is to stack the tyres (they need to be the same diameter) on top of each other and fill them with earth. “The weight of the tyres tends to keep them in place,” says John. They’re particularly great for growing potatoes as you can start with one or two tyres and sow your seed potatoes and then put another tyre on top and fill with earth, ensuring they get a good covering.
“The other great thing about tyre planters is it brings the height of the bed up to a level where I don’t have to bend down so much and it saves my back,” adds John. Chat up your local garage or scrap yard to acquire tyres, or ask for your old tyre back when you get a new tyre fitted.

There’s >> a useful article about upcycling on our website and >>tips for sorting your recycling

decycle.1 – this definition defines decycling as anti-recycling (possible irony), the purposeful disposing of rubbish to landfill or ‘spoiling’ recycling by mis-sorting items to make them unrecyclable. We hate this definition.

– the Make it and Mend it definition defines decycling as reducing the number of energy consuming processes we use to get from one point to another, or to turn one thing into another thing in the most energy-efficient, least wasteful way. We love this definition.
For example, we should rinse bottles and cans before putting them into recycling but we shouldn’t use fresh water to do this. That’s a waste of drinking water and the energy used to purify it. Instead, use old dishwater. Use water swilled around the first bottle to rinse out the second and so on.

downcycle – this is the opposite of upcycling and describes the process of turning things into new items which are of a lower quality and lower value.
Some things might be better suited to downcycling than upcycling (particularly if the upcycling alternative involves more energy and creates something decorative rather than useful).
And a lot of recycling is, in fact, downcycling. For example, paper recycling leads to a shortening of the paper fibres, which means that recycled paper is more likely to tear and is therefore a lower quality with more limited uses. And often new raw materials have to be added to recycled paper to make it useable. (Thanks to Grant for this insight.)
So, again, it’s very important to try and reduce and re-use paper waste before even thinking about recycling. Downcycling should be viewed as better than nothing.

Here’s a home downcycling project for carpets for you to consider if all else fails.
Old carpet often ends up in landfill. Start by seeing if it can be recycled after cleaning or dying a darker colour. Old, good quality fitted carpets can be cut into rugs and ‘whipped’ – the edges are bound professionally. If that’s too expensive, try edging the rug with hessian tape using strong twine and a very thick needle.
But carpets that don’t find a second life as carpets can be downcycled into weed barriers for gravel beds in the garden, or under paving stones. Old carpet – ideally, hessian backed and wool - can be laid over allotments that have become overgrown with weeds. But check with your allotment first. Some have banned carpet as people start the job and then don’t finish it, leaving the carpet to become weed infested. Don’t leave the carpet down for longer than a year or the weeds may grow through, making your job trickier.
• Some animal shelters may accept old carpet for bedding.
• Use pieces in the car to protect the fitted carpets from footwear or in the boot, particularly when taking garden refuse to the tip (for suitable recycling).
So what sort of "cycler" are you? Please tell us in the Comments section


  1. sarah abeachcottage22 May 2009 at 14:21

    great post, I now know I am a decycler



  2. fluffywelshsheep22 May 2009 at 14:24

    Brilliant articule :)

  3. Make it and Mend it22 May 2009 at 17:16

    Version 1 or 2??