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Why bother Recycling?

So why should you care about the waste that you (and everyone else) produce every hour of every day of every year? And why is it so important to reduce, reuse and recycle? Here are some good reasons.

Here are some good reasons.

What a waste!

Throwing things away is a waste of the resources and energy which have been used to make the product.

If we reduce, reuse and recycle instead of throwing away, fewer new materials need to be quarried or mined and fewer plantations need to be grown to make new things. Many parts of the world have already been damaged by mining and quarrying, which destroy the natural environment and wildlife habitats and may cause environmental and health problems for local people. In addition, the vast majority of resources that we use in manufacturing products and providing services cannot be replaced and so will eventually run out. Recycling also uses less energy than making things from scratch. A lot of this is the result of the oil and other fossil fuels that have to be used to transport raw materials around the world. For example, making aluminium cans from old ones uses only one twentieth of the energy needed to make them from raw materials. Every can made from recycled aluminium saves enough energy to power a TV for 3 hours.

Recycling can also reduce pollution. Recycling old bottles, instead of making them from new, can cut pollution by up to 20% and reduce the demand for water by half. Making bags from recycled polythene rather than raw materials produces only a third of the sulphur dioxide and half of the nitrous oxide as well as only using one-eighth as much water. When something is thrown away we are failing to see it as a resource. What is waste to one person may not be seen as waste by another. Increasingly people are realising that it makes economic sense as well as environmental sense to use "waste" rather than just throwing it away.

Where can we put it?

If we don't reduce, reuse and recycle our materials, they will have to be disposed of in one way or another.

Most of South Africa's waste currently ends up in landfill sites, large holes in the ground which, over time, are filled up with rubbish. Once a landfill site is full, it is covered over, meaning that all of the materials in the site are buried and no longer of use. Also, although most landfill sites are well managed, people don't tend to like living near them. In any case, the space available to create new landfill sites is now almost all used up, so we're going to have to think about something else to do with our waste. One of the main alternatives to landfill is incineration, which means getting rid of the waste by burning it. Although the burning of waste in incinerators is often used to make energy, for example to heat nearby homes and offices, it also results in valuable resources going up in smoke. In the same way that people don't like living near landfill sites they also don't like living near to incinerators, particularly as they can view them as a potential health risk.

Home front - taking action against waste at home

Household waste is a major problem. Fortunately there are things that we can all do about it. We call these the 3Rs - reduce, reuse and recycle.

Reduce means cut the amount of stuff you use in the first place so that you have less to throw away. Here are some ideas.

  • Don't buy things that you don't really need.
  • When you do buy things, choose things that are well made and that will last.
  • Choose toys and games that don't need batteries. If you do need batteries, use rechargeable ones.
  • Don't just throw things away if they break down. Instead, repair them yourself or get them repaired at a specialist shop.
  • Buy snacks and other food with less packaging on. For example you could buy an apple instead of a packet of crisps. Or you could take cake or biscuits to school from a large packet at home instead of buying individually wrapped biscuits or cakes.
  • Try not to buy take away food like pizzas, fish and chips, burgers and kebabs which as well as not being all that healthy, usually have a lot of waste associated with them.
  • Use reusable bottles or flasks for your drinks instead of individual cartons or cans and use reusable airtight containers for snacks and packed lunches instead of disposable wrappers.
  • Don't use disposable things. For example: use a normal camera instead of a disposable one; use a washable handkerchief instead of paper tissues; or, if you're having a party, use metal cutlery and real crockery instead of that made from plastic or paper.
  • Encourage your family to take their own shopping bags when they go shopping.

Reuse means use things again (and again and again). If you can't reduce, then try to reuse. Lots of things can be reused. If you can't reuse them yourself try to find someone else who can.

  • Instead of throwing away old clothes, toys, books, CDs, and videos, take these to a charity shop, car boot sale or jumble sale so that someone else can use them.
  • When you've finished reading a book, give it to your friends to read.
  • Save glass or plastic containers. Decorate them and reuse them for storing other things. It helps if you make sure that they are properly labelled.
  • Reuse yoghurt pots or the bottom half of plastic bottles to grow plants in.
  • Reuse envelopes by sticking a label over the old address. This will save money as well as reducing the number of envelopes that are thrown away.
  • Plastic carrier bags can be reused several times as shopping bags and can then be used as bin liners.
  • Get your printer and toner cartridges refilled when you've finished with them.
  • Find a charity to donate your old, working computer to instead of throwing it away.
  • When you grow out of your old bike, give or sell it to someone else who can make use of it.

Recycle means using things that have already been used, to make new things. Only recycle when you can't reduce or reuse. Here are some ways in which you can do this.

  • Save glass bottles or jars, drinks cans, aluminium foil and paper and take them to a recycling bank. Some places also recycle plastic bottles, clothes, shoes and other items.
  • Make or buy a compost bin or worm composter. Use these to recycle your waste food scraps and garden waste into compost, which you can use to grow new food or flowers.
  • Buy recycled. It's only by buying things made from recycled materials that you will make it worthwhile to recycle things in the first place.

The last thing that should cross your mind is to throw it in the bin!

Fight waste at school!

Waste is a problem. Fortunately there are things that we can all do about it. We call these the 3Rs - reduce, reuse and recycle.

  • reduce means cut the amount of stuff you use in the first place so that you have less to throw away
  • reuse means use things again (and again and again)
  • recycle means using things that have already been used, to make new things

Here's some ideas on how to do these three things at school:


  • Rather than starting a new page for each piece of work, rule off below previous work and continue on the same page.
  • Is it necessary to print everything you do in the I.T. room out onto paper? And if so, could it be printed double sided?
  • If you take your own lunch to school, aim for 'waste-free lunches'. Use reusable bottles or flasks for drinks instead of individual cartons or cans and reusable airtight containers for snacks and packed lunches instead of disposable wrappers. And don't take more food than you can eat!
  • Buy snacks with less packaging on them, for example, an apple instead of a packet of crisps.
  • When organising parties at Christmas and the end of term, use washable plates and cups and metal cutlery instead of disposable ones made from paper and plastic.


  • Always use both sides of a piece of paper before you recycle it or throw it away. Make sure that every classroom has a 'scrap' paper tray and put paper that has only been used on one side into this, rather than putting it straight in the bin or sending it off for recycling. The paper can then be used for 'rough work'.
  • Reuse old paper that cannot be written on any more to make papier mache models or masks. You can also mix it with water and mash it up to make a pulp for 3D modelling. Find uses for other items of waste, for example in art work or using plastic pots for growing seeds.
  • Buy a special flask or wash out an old bottle. Fill it with water and take it to school each day.
  • Hold a bring and buy sale to raise money for your school (or for another good cause) to which people can bring old clothes, toys or books for someone else to buy and reuse.
  • Encourage the school to use rechargeable batteries and refillable print cartridges.


  • Not surprisingly, the main material thrown away by schools is paper, which makes up at least quarter of the waste produced by schools. Set up a system of paper collection from each classroom which can be taken to the main recycling bin at the end of each day or week.
  • Put a bin next to the regular bins collect old cans for recycling.
  • Set up a composting scheme or a worm composter for food & green waste, including all the staff's tea bags and your fruit scraps.
  • Encourage your school to buy and use recycled paper and other recycled products.

The last thing that should cross your mind is to throw it in the bin!

See Also