Our ultimate guide to reuse, recycle, repair

Individual sewing behind sewing machine

Landfill sites are horrid, acrid, smelly, dirty and dangerous places. They’re hidden away out of sight (for most of us) and we just keep throwing things in the bin without really giving too much thought to where each piece of rubbish is going to end up.

Most of the stuff we throw away ends up in landfill. In 2020, UK households produced over 27 million tonnes of waste, recycling 44% of it. Although this 44% recycling rate seems pretty good, it’s over 2% down on the recycling rate in 2019, which suggests we may, as a nation, have reached our peak when it comes to our propensity to recycle.

So what happens to the rest of the waste that’s not recycled? Some will go to landfill, where it sits for decades or even centuries. Some will be incinerated, producing harmful gasses and risking public health. Sometimes, our rubbish is even shipped off to developing countries to deal with. It turns out that garbage, rubbish, trash, whatever you want to call it, is a very unsavoury business.

So how can we stop the produce-use-throw away, cycle? Well, by re-using, recycling and repairing of course! But what does this actually mean in practical terms and how can you start to incorporate this mantra into your daily life?

We’ve researched the easiest, most effective ways to reuse, recycle and repair your old things and we’re going to share these insights with you here, so dig out the super glue and the needle and thread and read on!

How to reuse like a boss

Two wellie boots repurposed as flower planters with purple and yellow flowers

Don’t worry you don’t have to be the most creative person in the world to reuse objects. We’re here with some simple ideas on how to breathe new life into your household objects that would otherwise get chucked.

Use cereal box bags as food wrap

Cereal box bags are really useful. They can be used to wrap your sandwiches, cover pots of leftovers in the fridge, separate burger patties or cheese slices in the fridge or freezer or wrap uncooked dough before freezing. These plastic bags are notoriously hard to recycle, but re-using them will prolong their life and reduce the amount of plastic and cellophane wrap you buy and use.

Cardboard loo rolls are your saviour!

The brown cardboard tubes inside of loo rolls have so many incredible uses, which is good to know in light of the fact that recycling cardboard requires large amounts of water and energy.

First, cut your tubes lengthways and slot over your coathangers. Hang your folded trousers over the tubes instead of directly over the wire, and hey presto! No more creases from hanging your trousers up.

Next, slot them over folded cables and label them up for some seriously useful cable tidies, or use them to prevent your wrapping paper from unravelling (particularly helpful at Christmas!)

Reuse cool tins, jars and bottles around the house

Packaging design has come a long way in recent years. Product designers know that their products need to sell through social media. Designs that catch the eye and look great in household settings photographed on Instagram and Pinterest sell really well. As a result, loads of products come with incredible designer packaging these days - think cocktails in cans, luxury tinned goods, cool labels, bottles for mixers and beers and beautifully shaped jars with embossed designs.

Instead of throwing these designer pots, jars, cans and bottles away, use them in displays, as planters, and for organising small items. Pinterest can be your inspiration and you can create unique displays in your home using items that would otherwise end up in landfill or recycling.

Your favourite clothes can become your favourite cushions

Making cushions from scraps of fabric really isn’t that difficult and they make great gifts once you've filled your own house up! There are so many youtube tutorials teaching simple sewing techniques, which can help you to become a whizz on the sewing machine, or even when sewing by hand.

Before you get rid of older clothing, consider the fabric. If you have an old silk dress that has a hole, for example, or a satin shirt that is worn around the cuffs, you can rescue the fabric to make a fantastic cushion. If you don't have quite enough for a whole cushion, simply combine two fabrics to make the front and back of your cushion.

How to repair like a pro

iPone with broken screen

Some household repair jobs can prevent you from having to throw things away, or buy new things. Others can save you some serious money, by helping you avoid a major outlay, say, for a handyman or a replacement appliance. Here are a few of our top repair hacks that anyone can use to prolong the life of their household items, reduce waste and save some cash.

Replace your iPhone screen

Did you know that replacing a screen on an iPhone is actually reasonably straightforward, providing you have a special iPhone screwdriver (we kid you not!) You can simply remove the two screws at the bottom of the screen and then disconnect the wires that connect the phone to the screen. Just be aware that tampering with your phone will obviously get in the way of any warranty claims. However, if it’s a choice between giving it a go yourself, paying someone a fortune to repair your screen or getting a new iPhone, I know which one I’d choose.

Use your local cobbler

We don’t necessarily suggest that you repair your shoes yourself, but Timpsons is SUCH a great business, offering affordable shoe repair on most high streets across the UK.

Don't be afraid of vacuum cleaners

Now, vacuum cleaners cost a lot of money and they have a tendency to get a bit bunged up from time to time. Don’t be afraid to get in there and untangle threads and other nasties that have clogged up your machine. If there’s no clog, the belt may have gone inside the working part of the hoover. Replacing the belt is actually straightforward. It’s another scenario where you might as well have a go fixing it if you are past warranty, as you have very little to lose.

Use this hack to unblock a toilet

Did you know that pouring a good 200ml of washing up liquid down the pan can help to unblock your toilet? Well, it can! Just squirt the soap down into the water, where it will sink to the bottom and start to help the blockage to dislodge.

Sharpen your knives

If your knives aren't as sharp as they once were, get them sharpened! You can pay a professional to sharpen your knives or you can invest in a sharpening stone. Sharpening stones, such as those from Whetstone, will last you a lifetime and make sure all your knives perform as new.

How to recycle like a champ

Women placing empty plastic bottles in recycling bin

It’s incredible to think that regular household waste recycling has only really been taking place for 15 years or so. Before that, we all had to schlep to the bottle bank or plastic recycling bins after collecting and storing recyclable packaging over a number of weeks or even months. Some of us didn’t recycle at all, and no one batted an eyelid.

We’ve come a long way as a nation when it comes to recycling, but we can still do better. Here are some suggestions on how we can all improve our recycling habits and reduce the amount we’re sending off to landfill

Store recycling in your car

This may sound weird but bear with us. Some items can’t be left out for your recycling van to collect. Items such as ink cartridges, batteries, water filters, clothing, shoes and small electronics usually need to be dropped at specialist recycling depots or taken into supermarkets where you can drop them off. Boxes in your car boots for these items are useful as they mean you’ll always have the items handy when you pass a drop-off point.

Keep a bag-for-life with you when out and about

It’s always really frustrating to throw packaging into a general waste bin after a picnic or when you’re eating on the go in town. Taking your recyclable items home with you is easier if you have a bag-for-life handy.

Rinsing is really important

Rinsing and even washing up your recyclable food packaging if necessary, is super important as it prevents contamination and makes the recycling process easier and less energy intensive. If cardboard is soiled with grease or food, don’t put it in the recycling.

Don’t put combined material items in recycling

These are awkward items that are made of more than one material. For example, those paper padded envelopes with plastic bubble-wrap on the inside, or plastic-film covered paper or coffee cups. These materials can not be separated at recycling plants, so they have to go into the bin.

Recycle your worn, worn-out clothes

You may feel that your old bobbled cardi, or your jeans with a hole in won’t be of any use to anybody, but you'd be wrong. Clothing recycling bins are easy to find these days and much of the clothing that’s thrown into these bins is reprocessed into useful industrial products, such as house insulation or carpet underlay. Natural fibres are the easiest to reprocess, however, and some synthetic materials end up in incinerators.

Repairing, reusing and recycling are key parts of any household’s efforts to be more climate-conscious. Making good decisions and being more mindful of our purchases in the first place can further help to reduce your household’s impact on the environment. But it’s inspiring to know that acquiring a few simple skills and taking the time to repurpose items instead of throwing them away can benefit us all.

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