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Virginia Wells

What’s better than recycling?

Is there something better than recycling? Recycling is good, isn’t it? Well yes, it is but in this guest post by Rebecca Tregurtha from the Family Footprint Project she suggests a few things that are even better…

When it comes to removing waste and clutter from our homes, many of us are us are pretty good recyclers. Recycling is a very worthy and sensible thing. Collecting and reprocessing those valuable resources is good for the Earth. But did you know that on the hierarchy of waste-reducing principles, recycling is actually pretty low down?

Waste Reducing Principles

The hierarchy goes like this:

You have probably heard about people ‘going zero waste’ and keeping their waste for the year in a jar. Ever wondered how on Earth that is possible? Well, it starts at the top of this hierarchy. We are not a zero-waste household because it is troubling for me to set absolute goals that, with a family, I would find difficult and frustrating. We have, however, significantly reduced the waste we send to landfill by following these principles.

They are also valuable in the process of minimising the clutter in your home and why I am talking about them here on the WellSorted blog.

Let’s go through them one at a time.


The obvious place to start if we want to reduce the amount of waste and clutter we produce, is to stop the stuff from entering our houses in the first place. This can range from politely refusing the ‘goodie bag’ at the event you are attending (they are only full of promotional stuff anyway!) to reconsidering purchasing habits.

It can be challenging to rethink our automatic or long standing behaviours and assumptions. It is also challenging to stop ourselves from being influenced by marketing and advertising. Even from wanting what “The Jones” have. It is possible, however, to unhook ourselves from the consumption mindset and be more conscious about what we allow into our homes and lives.

The more we can REFUSE ‘stuff’, the less waste and clutter we will have to deal with.


Where it is not possible or desirable to REFUSE items, the next step is the REDUCE the amount we need or use. In the modern world, there is lots we need and many things we want – and that is fine. Perhaps, however, we don’t need quite so much of them.

For example, the marketers of cleaning products would have us believe that we need one spray for this, another spray for that, this special cloth, that fancy wipe. In truth, we can clean our houses very satisfactorily with a few simple products and cut up old t-shirts. Under sink clutter problem solved! The environment will be a whole lot happier without all the extra plastic and chemicals too.

We need to wear clothes, but we don’t need to replace our wardrobes every season. We need equipment in our kitchens but maybe we don’t need five do-dads when one will do. The less we need, the fewer of Earth’s resources are required to run our lives – and think of all the space that could be saved.


The next concept to consider is what we can REUSE. In days gone by our forbears saved everything that could ever be of further use. Resources were expensive and precious. Today they are not so expensive so we don’t give them the value they deserve. However, there are many ways to reuse items that would otherwise be sent to landfill. For example, glass jars are a safe and convenient way to store pantry items rather than buying more plastic containers. Now I know Virginia would be horrified if I suggested storing every bit of this and that ‘just in case’ but before you toss something into the recycling or the rubbish, think about what further use you have for it or, indeed, if anyone else might be able to give it a new home. For example, we return our egg cartons to the egg vendor at the Farmer’s Market who happily reuse them. Buy Nothing and Buy, Swap, Sell type groups are also great for passing on items you no longer need that have a lot of life left.

The more use we get out of an item, the more value we get from the investment in those resources. We’ll reduce the pressure on the environment while keeping our homes more organised and our bank accounts more healthy.


And, finally, we come to ROT. I am particularly passionate about keeping organic waste out of landfill. We all know that organic matter breaks down naturally but did you know that when it is in landfill, it produces greenhouse gases such as methane? This is because the decomposition process in landfill is anaerobic, meaning that it doesn’t have access to the oxygen required for the usual, non-greenhouse gas emitting process that occurs in the garden compost heap. I have a blog post about how we have eliminated organics from our landfill bin if you’d like to know more.

I like to take the concept of ROT in the waste hierarchy further, however, by avoiding products that do not break down, wherever possible. That is, I try to avoid plastic. In our home we use bamboo toothbrushes, coconut husk dish scrubbers and old cotton rags for cleaning cloths. All these things will eventually break down and rot.

Don’t think for a moment we are an entirely plastic free household. We cannot easily avoid some plastics such as medicine packaging. We still often buy foods in plastic packaging. And we still fill our recycling bin most weeks. However, there are many small changes that are easy to make that, collectively, make a huge difference. My mantra is ‘imperfect action’. Setting the goal as perfection will lead to failure. As the saying goes, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” – Anne-Marie Bonneau

I encourage you to take imperfect action and think beyond recycling as a solution to waste. Start at the top of the hierarchy and REFUSE – REDUCE – REUSE – ROT before throwing items into the recycling or landfill bin. By following these principles, you’ll find your home is less cluttered too.

About the Author

Rebecca Tregurtha is passionate about taking imperfect action to lower the carbon footprint of her household. She blogs about it at Family Footprint Project where she encourages others to embark on their own family footprint project.

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