Recycling is on the rise in the UK, thanks to dedicated bins, community tips and a growing awareness of the environment.
In 2012 we reached a tipping point in the UK, where more household waste was recycled than was sent to landfill – 10.7m tonnes compared to 9.6m tonnes. In some parts of the country, clothing, cans, paper and even waste food is collected on the street and recycled.
Now, I’m a good recycler; I always wash my cans and sort all my rubbish. So I have been wondering if my efforts could save me money and even earn me some extra cash…
The most commonly recycled product is paper; you can buy toilet paper, drawing paper, printer paper all made from reused, pulped paper.
I already buy recycled drawing paper for my kids; they get through far too much of it to buy immaculate white paper. Apart from the kids, we are mostly paperless (although I am not sure using a tablet computer counts as being greener).
However, there was one step I realised I could take. A few years ago, a scientist speaking for the Natural Resources Defence Council argued that buying soft white toilet paper is one of the “greatest excesses of our age” and “a lot worse than driving Hummers in terms of global warming pollution”.
Yikes, it’s hard to keep buying soft white after reading that. But what about the price of recycled loo roll? You can buy four rolls of recycled toilet paper for £1.78, or 44.5p a roll. That’s exactly the same price as the supermarket’s standard toilet rolls, so there’s no money to be saved.
However, I switched the rolls in my house over the weekend and my children didn’t even notice. My husband could tell it was different, but didn’t seem to care – so that’s an environmentally friendly decision I am happy to make even without any savings.
What is safe to buy second hand?
Of course, re-used is better than recycled, so what is safe to buy second hand? Clothing is a good one; I have found some excellent bargains in charity shops. Take a look here.
And as my second baby has only had hand-me-downs, I have realised that it makes no sense at all to buy mostly new kit for a young child.
Children go through developmental toys and clothes ridiculously fast, but you can buy ‘baby bundles’ for a pittance compared to brand new. My sister has twins and once paid £10 for a bag of top-quality second-hand clothing that we worked out would have cost her £50 brand new.
Even little children’s shoes can be safely bought second hand, as long as they fit and the previous owner has not worn the sole down too much.
The only thing I would not consider buying second hand is safety equipment like child’s car seats or cycling helmets. There’s a risk I’d be unable to spot any damage to the product, but that it would fail to work when it was really needed. Official advice is to avoid buying second-hand safety equipment if possible.
Everything else, I’d follow some basic checks (there’s a good list for children’s things over at Which?) but I’d definitely consider buying second hand.
Can you sell your rubbish?
If recycling is such big business, then is there any way for us consumers to make some cash? I shovel my recyclables into my blue bin, but could I be flogging them instead? I donate clothes to charity collections, but could I be earning some cash? I’ve been taking a look…
My toddlers are very hardwearing when it comes to clothes, so I would struggle to sell their cast-offs. But I do donate them; assuming they will be used as rags if they were too worn to be, well, worn.
But there are many websites and even high street shops where you can get paid for handing over clothes and paired shoes.
Most pay by weight – about 50p/kg is standard. That’s not going to be the best way to sell designer gear, but it could be a great way to make money out of reusable clothing that you might struggle to sell elsewhere. It took me two pairs of trousers and a top to reach 1kg, so a bin bag might get you around a fiver.
I pay enough for these, so can I make some money once they have run out? According to CashforCartridges.co.uk the answer is yes – they pay up t0 £4.50 a cartridge, and they will arrange for a free courier collection if your parcel weighs more than 2kg.
Sadly, when I looked up their price list, discovered that they pay 1p for most cartridges and nothing for my Kodak units. In fact, they would charge me 20p for disposing of unsuitable cartridges if I posted them by mistake.
In short, I can’t make money this way but some Canon cartridges are worth as much as £3 – so there is cash to be made by a lucky few.
Metal is worth money, right? Thanks to my toddlers’ belief that we have to have baked beans with every meal, we get through an awful lot of cans, so can I make some cash (to spend on more baked beans…)? Apparently not.
I found a local scrap metal merchant who accepts metal from the public (you can find your nearest via the website Thinkcans.net. http://thinkcans.net/cash-cans/where-can-i-recycle). He revealed that the metal he wants is aluminium, like the cans you get fizzy drinks in. Cans of food tend to be made of steel, for which he pays a nominal fee.
“Okay, well, how much can I get for my coke cans?” I asked. He said he’d pay me 40p a kilo. “And how many cans in a kilo, roughly?” About 50 came the reply.
So that’s just under a penny a can… And for steel tins, he’d pay me 5p a kilo. It is hard to get excited about that given how little any one home will use. However, I can see this being an excellent way to raise money and awareness at a school or workplace.
Can you make money recycling?
I’ve learned that there’s big money to be made recycling; it’s a thriving and growing industry. And that’s good – we need to reduce waste going to landfill and recycle more.
However, I’m not sure that the small-scale financial incentive is enough to get most individuals doing it for money, the returns are too low.
But the mantra is ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’, in that order. If I can reduce what we use by cutting back waste and if I can reuse items via websites like Freegle and Freecycle instead of buying them new then I have saved money and been more environmentally friendly.
And if I recycle what’s left then I can be confident I have done my bit.