Resolving recycling dilemmas

We live in a time where it is now possible to recycle many things that a couple of decades ago would have ended up in landfill or a municipal incinerator.


There are many things that can cause you to get stuck while clutter clearing, and one thing that comes up again and again is wanting the things you let go of to be re-used in some way rather than just thrown in the bin. One woman  wrote to me recently, for example, to say that she was having difficulty letting go of shoes with holes in the soles because she didn’t want to just put them in the trash.

Recycling options

There is so much more awareness now of the finite resources our planet has, and a far greater sense of social responsibility to use them wisely. But there are still gaping holes in this.

In most parts of the UK, for example, all plastics from household waste can be recycled, except for bottle tops and anything made of black plastic. I was so mystified by these exclusions that I did some research into why this might be. It seems that most plastic bottles are made from PET#1 plastic, but their tops are made from polypropylene, which melts at a different temperature, so they cannot be recycled together. Leaving caps on can also cause them to fly off at high speed when put through the bottle crusher, which can injure recycling workers. As to black plastic, the scanners in many recycling centres apparently cannot detect it because black does not reflect light, so if it’s included with other plastic recycling it can pass straight through and end up contaminating other materials such as glass.

A few recycling centres are now developing equipment that can cope with all these problems, but the source of the issue really lies with manufacturers failing to invest in research to develop fully recyclable materials in the first place. And some responsibility also lies with us for continuing to buy these items, knowing they will have to be thrown in the trash.

Do the best you can and let the rest go

So this is the main thing I point out to people who feel paralyzed to let things go unless they can be re-used in some way. Technology has made huge advances, and we can be thankful for that. More resources are also available these days to allow us to make more informed choices about the purchases we make. But for some of the things we’ve already bought, we have to accept that no method of recycling yet exists, or may ever exist. It may have to be thrown in the trash. By all means google for a solution (enter the name of your particular item + recycle in the search box), but if none is available, choose differently from now on and let the old item go. That’s all anyone can do.

Interestingly, this echoes a core principle of personal development work. We can’t change what we’ve done in the past, but we can change what we do from now on.

So I now use refillable recyclable glass water bottles rather than plastic disposable ones, and avoid black plastic food packaging whenever possible. The trick is to stop the problem at the point of acquisition rather than trying to rectify it at the point of disposal, when it may be too late.

Things that can’t be recycled

For anyone prone to beating themselves up, some measure of forgiveness is called for here. Take photos, for example. People of a certain age have hundreds of printed photos innocently sitting in boxes or albums in their home, but now it turns out they have toxic coatings that cannot be recycled with normal paper waste. Who knew this years ago?

And there is a similar ignorance today about thermal paper receipts. A 2011 study found that 94% of receipts in the US contain Bisphenol A (BPA), which is an endocrine disruptor known to cause reproductive problems in humans and animals, and a host of other health disorders too. If thermal receipts are thrown into paper recycling, they end up contaminating recycled toilet paper, food packaging, paper napkins and other products we use. Who knows this? I certainly didn’t until I read about it last year.

These are just two of many examples to take into account when clutter clearing, and no doubt many more will surface in the coming years. But can you wait for that? My advice is to do the best you can based on what you know now and what resources are available, and then let the rest go. Perfection is the great paralyzer, and if it gangs up with guilt, there’s nowhere to go. Far better you let go of the past and put your time and energy into creating a better future, which is where it will count.

In the course of checking facts for this article, it so happened that I did discover a recycling system for old shoes, so there are schemes are out there if you want to look for them. But I suggest you put a limit on how much of your time and energy you invest in this process. It can be a well-disguised form of self-sabotage.

In the US, you can use this website to discover recycling options in your area:

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How eco-consciousness can become eco-neurosis

Copyright © Clear Space Living Ltd, 2014

About Karen Kingston

Karen Kingston is a leading expert in clutter clearing, space clearing, feng shui and healthy homes. Her two international bestselling books have combined sales of over three million copies in 26 languages and have established themselves as "must read" classics in their fields. Her best-known title, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, is now in its fourth edition. She is best known for her perspective-changing insights and practical solutions that enable more conscious navigation of 21st-century living.
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9 Responses to Resolving recycling dilemmas

  1. Great article, Karen. I live in Edmonton, AB, Canada. We have a state of the art waste management system. I have scheduled a tour of our facility, as this process fascinates me. Nearly all of our energy comes from oil, gas & coal. The goal in our city is to be a 90% diversion by 2015. 20% recyclables, 40% compost, 30% biofuels & 10% landfill.

    I currently throw all my non-recyclable waste in a plastic bag & throw it in the bin when full. Any suggestions on alternatives to plastic? I live in an apartment building that supplies a garbage & recycle bin. I separate my compost, so I suppose throwing the remaining items loosely in my garbage can & dumping them in the bin would be ok?

    1. It’s good to see so many recycling schemes available today. I suggest you contact your local waste management center to ask specific questions about what you put in your garbage and alternatives in your part of the world to plastic. It sounds like they are very proactive.

  2. Wow, more things to take into consideration before and when purchasing…I always ask for my receipt to be emailed I had no idea about the materials used in thermal paper. It seems the more we try to simplify our lives, the more complicated we make it. Happy Nesting.

  3. Hi Karen: I have been getting a lot of information from your Newsletters. For example; throwing out old clothes / shoes; where I live (usa) the “trash is recycled to energy”; so although one does not like to throw out good clothing / shoes; at least one has comfort knowing these items will be “recycled” as “energy”; so I do appreciate your thoughts. Anne

    ps I find “grouping my throw-aways” helps me to give them “a push to the “trash bin’ !!!@

  4. This is a great post – it’s so important to recycle as much as possible both at home and in the workplace, so even doing things like replacing plastic bottles with reusable glass bottles can make a huge difference!

  5. Ever since we started to buy our fruit & vegetable from our local farm shop, I’ve noticed that our bin for landfill has got much smaller. Our fruit & veg are packed neatly in a cardboard box with very few plastic packaging. They will collect the cardboard box and re-use the box. We also buy our milk from milkman. I know it’s very old fashioned, but milk tastes much better from glass bottles. Milkman collects our empty bottles and foil lids go to our recycling bin. We don’t need to recycle empty plastic bottles afterwards. Buying meat from local butcher also helps reduce plastic packaging waste.

  6. Interestingly where I am, in Japan, a church I go to on occasion collects the caps of the water bottles and somehow they contribute to getting vaccinations for people in third world countries(!)

    Not sure how that happens but we save them up and drop them off there when in the neighborhood. I’ve gone back to carrying my own filtered water in stainless steel which I find tastes so much better than bottled water. Have also read that bottled water is not regulated as well as tap water and somehow in the last few years my body has picked up some uranium – way before the earthquake over here – and I thought how on earth did that happen? Well it can come from water apparently. And the timing of that in my life seems to correlate to when I started drinking bottled water when out and about. Who knows? But there seem to be no good chelating agents for it so I’m stuck with it.

    Also interesting about those receipts which drive me nuts as a freelancer because they often have faded by the end of the year so hard to read for taxes and if I were ever audited a lot of my “proof” would have evaporated! So guess the only alternative is to copy them which of course waste more paper – crazy.

    In Japan people often throw out bags of old clothes beautifully folded. Our garbage bags are semi-clear so you can see them. Bazaars and flea markets are getting going as a concept here but there are very few charities where you can just give away your old things. I finally realized this is a rather Judaeo/Christian concept in the west. But Japanese also do not on the whole like “old ” things. Perhaps intuitively, as Karen often mentions about the East, they don’t want the “old vibes” that come with them. Until the economy tanked in the last decade or two older houses were routinely torn down if bought and the new owner would build their own. Same idea.

  7. I discovered that in Australia and New Zealand they had plastic free months. It’s July this year ( I had a go in September. It is very, very hard, until you start to exclude if from your life, you don’t realise how much you are dependent on plastic. But it did force me to to make some changes that we have stuck with. We all have our own stainless steel waterbottle, picnic box and straw. We have bamboo picnic cutlery and toothbrushes. I wrap food in homemade beeswax coated cotton sheets. I don’t use kitchen paper and we have never used paper hankies. We buy as much as we can loose in paper bags or our own containers. We have a HUGE way to go. But baby steps all the way make it a lot easier.

  8. AMAZING about receipts! I can definitely relate to this — one of my biggest paralyses. Thankfully I’m in a big city where many materials are recycled, including textiles & various kinds of plastic. For those who aren’t near textile recycling centers, pet shelters will usually take any kind of textiles (old sheets, towels, shirts). Thank you for this, Karen. I’m so aware I’m adding to land fills, but life on earth is so imperfect in so many ways. I chuck away & then vote for politicians who work on recycling / incinerating trash like Germany does. Best of all, I think twice before buying anything, knowing it will end up in the trash sooner or later.

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