Ideas for Improving Household Recycling

Two miniature workmen figurines with a toolbox in front of aluminium cans

As a family who have moved frequently over the years due to work commitments, we’ve seen a lot of different local rubbish and recycling programs – some good, and some bad.  Here are our ideas for streamlining and improving recycling. The easier it is to consistently and correctly recycle, the easier it will be for the whole family help reduce household waste. 

Recycling Dilemmas and Challenges

When our current council decided to change their program, it was a good incentive to look options for improving household recycling. The new program will require changing how our items are sorted and stored. It has a different mix of combined curbside items and bins. Additionally, some items have been added (yay!) and some have been removed (boo!) from collection.  We need to change up our habits and our systems to efficiently get with the new program. 

We’d been lax at setting up a system at the current house as we were doing major renovations. The disruptions made it difficult to set and maintain a convenient system. There were lots of opportunity to do better! Here are our tips for setting up a convenient home recycling system, streamlining, and sticking with your rubbish reduction plans.

Check Your Local Recycling Program Guidelines

One thing we’ve experienced (and struggled with) during our many family moves is that all areas do waste collection differently. The first place to start when looking to streamline your home recycling efforts is to check your local program rules and requirements.

Maximising your recycling may involve more than one service. Some may be collected at home, some may require you to drop off at a collection point or depot.  For example, our council collects standard recycling, but soft plastic is collected by another service at drop-off points. While you are researching, check and note special waste disposal programs as well so you know your options for correctly disposing of chemicals, paints, e-waste, and other non-rubbish if and when the need arises.

Check what is and isn’t recycled and how it is grouped for collection. Take note of any special guidance on preparing items for recycling, such as lids and caps, squashing and crushing, etc. 

Set Up Convenient Drop and Storage Locations

The easier it is to recycle, the more likely you will be to do it. This might require setting up a few convenient drop off bins or boxes around your home, or setting some family habits around where empty containers and bottles are placed to be washed and dried.  

Household Drop/Collection Points

The kitchen is the hub of most homes, but you might find it handy to have a collection point (or some family ground rules) for other areas, like your home office, garage, laundry, or bathroom.   Tie it all in with your compost and trash systems. You’ll be lean mean rubbish reduction machine in no time!

We keep a compost collection container, paper collection container, and we have a mixed plastics/metal drop box in the kitchen. The latter is the lower pull-out of our kitchen waste bin, with rubbish in the upper. More often than not, cans, jars, and bottles are left drying beside the kitchen sink. Occasionally, recyclables are left on the counters or in the sinks of our bathroom or laundry, too. Not the tidiest, but easy for everyone to follow and better than picking them out of the trash. It only takes a little extra effort on the daily clean up to gather these for their respective bins.

Interim Storage for Curbside Collection or Drop-Off

Keep your gathered household recyclables sorted, clean, and (where necessary) dry until collection or drop-off. If you’re like us, this will mean either using bins from the collection service or buying large storage bins. Lidded trash cans work well. You can use colours or labels to code what goes where.

Special Cases

There may be some special cases in your recycling plans. When these come up, try to accommodate them in your planning or your household habits. These could be one-of special activities, like materials for a renovation project, sorting before a move, or doing a major household clean-up (like my craft destash). Include convenient sorting and storage for recycling, donation, re-purposing, and rubbish in your project plans.

You may also have some ongoing special cases. For example, there is a particular type of jar that I always save, clean, and reuse. They’re a great size, the lids are unmarked, and the labels peel easily (manufacturers, take note!). Everyone in our home knows those jars and lids get saved, not recycled. Similarly, paper grocery bags and plastic bags (if we have them) have designated storage places for reuse.  I’ve also created holding spots for damaged clothes and toys for repair and for salvaging materials for reuse.

Preparing and Sorting Recyclables

Clean Your Recyclables Prior to Storage

Get into the habit of washing and drying (or leaving to air dry) your recyclables prior to sorting and storing for collection.  Contaminated recycling is one of the biggest problems for most programs. This creates an added burden for sorting, cleaning, and potentially means that otherwise recyclable materials will be trashed instead.

Cleaning and drying is in your best interest too. It will help keep your bins clean, less smelly, and attract fewer pests than dirty storage. If you’re collection service is diligent, you may also be pinged with non-collection on a spot-check.

Separate and Sort Recyclables Prior to Storage

Sort carefully. Stick with the guidelines of your programs, and if in doubt, check the rules. Wishcycling (popping it into your recycling in the hope that it’s good to go) is another form of contamination.  Some of your recyclables may need to be separated prior to sorting, such as removing metal lids from glass jars or tearing transparent windows from paper envelopes.

If your local programs permit or direct, clean dry recyclables may need to be crushed, flattened, or cut to size (cardboard) prior to binning or bagging.  This can be done concurrently with sorting into the correct location in your home’s drop and store locations.

Evolve Your Recycling Approach Over Time

Finding it tricky to stick with the program? Adapting the way you prepare, collect, and/or store your recyclables might help. The more convenient your system, the easier it will be to consistently recycle what you can. If sorting is a problem area, keeping a reminder poster or labelling bins can help, especially if recycling with kids.

Still finding yourself with a lot of non-recyclable rubbish? Take a look at where your trash is coming from and consider whether there are product, shopping, or usage changes that you could make to reduce your trash. 

Shocked by how much recycling you generate? Recycling is good, but reducing waste is even better.  Are there items you could buy in different packaging or reuseable/refillable alternatives? Frequent use products that might be more efficient if bought in bulk?

Local programs changing? Moving or travelling? Check for changes to what is recycled and how. It may be significantly different than what you’ve become used to, and changing habits can be hard, but approaching it with a plan will help. 

Ideas for Improving Household Recycling


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