Household waste

Kitchen caddy above; segregated waste containers below

Kitchen caddy above; segregated waste containers below


Separation is key when putting out household wastes. Every kitchen should have a number of separate containers for the different types of waste (See photo). What material goes into which container depends largely on the council’s waste collection system.

Compostable waste

By putting putrescible organic waste into a kitchen caddy, destined for composting, the potentially smelly, less pleasant part of household waste is kept separate from the remaining waste, helping to keep material for recycling clean. Increasingly, councils are collecting compostable waste in small bins . The waste is shipped to a large composting plant, or anaerobic digester, to be treated and converted to compost for putting on to agricultural land as a valuable fertiliser. It may sometimes be available for sale to householders for their gardens.

Home composting

Rotary composter for kitchen waste

Rotary composter for kitchen waste

Kitchen food waste after six months in drum composter

Kitchen food waste from two people after six months in drum composter

Should no compost colllection be available, you can compost the majority of your organic waste yourself in a home composter. The food waste, when added to garden waste, enhances the fertiliser value of the garden compost, reducing the need for inorganic fertiliser to be applied to home grown vegetables. If the compost bin is an open construction, accessible to rodents, only vegetable matter, paper and cardboard should be composted. I use a homemade rotary composter (See photo). Not only does it allow regular mixing of the compost, but it prevents rats accessing the contents. This allows meat scrapings, chicken or turkey bones to be added. Since the waste is 10-15 % dry matter, its initial volume reduces greatly.

Low temperature rotting

The composting process in a large scale commercial composter is quite different from a home composter. In the former, temperatures rise to 70°C, and the material converts to a crumbly compost material within 5-7 days, with any weed seeds killed by the high temperature. The compost is then allowed to stabilise (become inactive), in large windrows over a six month period. In the home composter, the food waste rots at a slow rate, taking six months to become a crumbly brown compost. Even then egg shells, bones, and orange peel may still be present. When mixed with garden waste, it may take a further year to become suitable for applying to the vegetable patch. Any weed seeds present will still be viable.

What to recycle

Items which are commonly recyclable are paper, cardboard, glass bottles, aluminium/steel cans and plastic bottles. Some councils accept yoghurt cartons and meat trays, but this is rare. There may be occasional collections for batteries and electronic equipment, or councils may allow these items to be included in a collection box for other material. Whatever your view of what should be recycled, it is essential that you only put in the recycling container what the council asks. If you add other materials, they have to waste time and pay labour to pick these out for disposal to landfill.

Separation systems

Separation for recycling is best done at source, in the home. However, every separated group of recyclables requires a separate container. Councils have to decide on how many containers to provide and whether to use refuse collection vehicles (RCVs) with multiple compartments (kerbside sort) or just one or two (co-mingled collections).  The Scottish government and EU commissioners prefer the kerbside sort, but a number of Scottish councils (e.g. Aberdeenshire council) are defying their recommendations by selecting co-mingled collections, as these tend to be cheaper. The problem, however, is will the co-mingled recyclables be of good enough quality to find a buyer? More information on a suggested government approach to a radical waste and recycling policy is available under 1 Planet living.

Limit what you buy

The householder’s best approach to packaging is to avoid buying packaged products or choose materials with only minimal packaging.  Choosing not to drink carbonated drinks or beer not only helps maintain your waistline, but saves throwing away large numbers of cans and bottles. Cordials, tap water, milk, natural fruit juices are better for you and can also reduce what is recycled. Buying  bottles of water is unnecessary. Milk is still available in returnable glass bottles, delivered by a milkman. Larger fruit juice cartons use less material than individual cartons. Reusable thermos mugs are available to save getting disposable cups at coffee or tea venders.

Buy items in compostable or easily recyclable packaging

Paper makes excellent packaging, as it can be recycled with paper if clean, or composted, if dirty. PET (e.g. carbonated drinks) bottles, natural white HDPE (e.g. milk) bottles, and coloured HDPE (e.g. shampoo) bottles are all worth recycling. Flimsy films and polythene bags are not.

Try to avoid plastic/foil sachets with straws, plastic PET bottles with colourful PVC outer film (e.g. Lucozade), or highly coloured plastic bottles. Bottles made of mixed plastics are more difficult to separate, while highly coloured plastics need high quantities of dyes added (See photo) to the newly formed plastic to overwhelm the original colours.

Strong colour hides original colours

Strong colour hides original mixed colours

Put household plastic bags or film, polystyrene beads for protecting parcel contents, black meat trays, clear polystyrene boxes for fruit, grapes, biscuits, in the residual waste as they are only suitable for landfill or burning.