Top of Page
Brighter Futures Together

Encourage recycling in your community

Use these links to jump to a section
Help spread the word

01. Background

This factsheet will show you how you can reduce, reuse and recycle your waste in your community.

Waste and how we deal with it is a growing issue in the UK and across the world, with the realisation that the vast majority of the resources that we rely on to sustain our life styles are finite. Traditionally in the UK we dispose of our waste by either burying it or burning it. But the practices of burning and burying waste create significant environmental issues. Burning waste releases climate changing gasses such as carbon dioxide along with other harmful substances. Burying waste also releases climate changing gases, most notably methane which is produced through the decomposition of organic waste. However, methane’s impact is 25 times greater than carbon dioxide. There is also the potential for water contamination from decomposing waste and the release of dangerous compounds into the soil and water supplies. Modern landfill sites try to minimise the potential for these.

Waste reduction should be seen as part of the wider effort to reduce human impacts on the planet and live more sustainably. Waste reduction and recycling have major positive impacts on climate change. Recycling one tonne of steel uses only 5% of the energy required to produce a tonne of steel from ‘virgin’ material, therefore saving large amounts of carbon dioxide. And every tonne of aluminium recycled prevents the extraction and use of five tonnes of bauxite and the associated impacts of processing bauxite.

Aside from the pollution risks, dumping or burning waste represents a wider loss and potential waste of finite resources.

Most people will be familiar with recycling, and there is a suite ofUKand European Union legislation attempting to address the issues of waste and recycling. The focus on recycling is welcome but on its own it is not the solution to waste disposal. A more rounded approach is required. To this end decision makers have adopted the waste hierarchy, which places emphasis on waste reduction and reuse before recycling with incineration and landfill as the least favoured options.

The Waste Hierarchy


The hierarchy is based on the idea that preventing and reducing the amount of waste is better in the long term, reducing the amount of energy and effort required to deal with waste. Reusing items for their original purpose or a linked purpose without any processing is preferable to recycling which requires the expenditure of energy to reprocess the materials. With burning and burial the last options, to be used for waste that cannot be subject to the more desirable methods.

Waste is a problem that we all face and we all have a role to play in its solution. We can help by working to reduce the amount of waste we send for final disposal, make efforts to reduce the waste we produce, reuse where possible and recycle everything we can.

02. Suggested Activities

Here are some activities you can undertake to reduce the impacts of the waste you and your wider community produce:

Step 1. Waste prevention

Try wherever possible to prevent waste occurring. Avoid buying more than you need. Try only printing documents and emails that have to be legally stored in paper form, for example, contract documents and building designs. Try not to print emails or other documents unless absolutely necessary. If the information is essential, make use of removable electronic storage such as a memory stick or copy important information onto CD (you should always back up electronic storage). Wherever possible avoid the use of paper communications, if your group is organising a meeting, send out the invites by email along with attached agenda and minutes. Another useful method of preventing waste is to use online information sources or broadcast media instead of buying, for example, weighty Sunday papers.

Step 2. Waste Reduction

Try wherever possible to reduce the amount of waste you create. Ensuring that when the production of waste is inevitable it is kept to a minimum. If something must be printed ensure that it is double sided. Avoid wasting food by only purchasing what is required. When purchasing something try to avoid products with excessive packaging, buy lose vegetables instead of pre-packed goods. When looking at larger goods such as fridges or televisions, try to only replace these when the originals are beyond use (such as when repair is uneconomic). Replacing your kettle because it no longer matches the decoration in your kitchen is wasteful!

Step 3. Reuse

Extending the useful life of something by either continuing its use or making use of it in another way, reduces the need to produce more products and therefore the total amount of waste produced. For example, take and reuse old carrier bags when shopping avoids the use of new bags. Using old carrier bags as bin liners or dog mess bags reduces the demand for new bags to meet those purposes.

If you have to dispose of items such as electrical goods or furniture that are still useable (fit for their original purpose), offer these for sale at a car boot sale or on an online auction site. There is also the possibility of donating the item to a charity or to someone else who can make use of it through the Freecycle network.

It is possible to donate decorating products for reuse through a scheme called Community Repaint, which operates a network of independent centres across the country. These centres take in unwanted decorating supplies and distribute them to community and education projects.

Step 4. Recycle

Having reduced the amount of waste you or your group produce through prevention, reduction, and reuse measures, the next step is to ensure that of the waste you do produce, everything that can be recycled is recycled.

As an individual you should have access to a council operated doorstep recycling scheme or if you are in an area where one is impractical the council should operate a communal service. In addition to doorstep collections, most council will operate ‘Bring It’ sites, where materials for recycling can be deposited. Most ‘Bring It’ sites collect items not normally collected from the doorstep, such as glass, shoes and clothing. For details of the location of your nearest ‘Bring It’ site contact your local authority. Materials for recycling can also be deposited at civic amenity sites operated by the local authority. These sites will accept a wide range of materials including white goods, such as fridges, washing machines and cookers.

If the local community building you use for group meetings and activities does not currently have recycling provisions, or access to nearby recycling facilities, try contacting your local authority’s recycling officer. They will be able to advise you on any recycling facilities available to your group, and may even be able to offer you, where viable, your own community recycling facilities.

Step 5. Composting

A significant proportion of the waste we throw away is organic and can be composted. At a domestic level composting at home is relatively easy. It is possible to access subsidised compost bins from the local authority. It is also possible to construct your own with timber (preferably reused). Instructions for this can be found on the internet or in many gardening books.

Home composting only really makes sense if you have the ability to use the compost. If you have a small garden but produce a lot of compostable waste, it would be better to access a communal composting scheme or make use of a council-run green waste scheme.

There are examples of community composting schemes where compostable waste is collected by volunteers. Here waste is processed in large composting bins, normally at an allotment site or community project, and then the compost is distributed to anyone who has contributed. This type of scheme removes the need for the householder to find space for a bin on their property.

For further advice and guidance on community composting, groups should try to contact their local authority’s recycling or composting officer. Alternately if there are no green waste or community composting schemes operating in your area it may be possible for a group to establish their own scheme. Funding can be sort and there is extensive support on offer from various organisations such as Recycle Now who also subsidise domestic compost bins and the Community Composting Network.

03. Additional Information

Here is a list of actions that anyone can take to reduce the amount of waste they create:

  • Recycle via kerbside collections.
  • Avoid disposable batteries – use rechargeable ones.
  • Refuse plastic carrier bags – use a ‘bag for life’ or a natural fibre one instead.
  • Buy loose fruit and vegetables from a local market or grocer rather than highly-packaged goods – it can be cheaper too.
  • Buy cotton cloths for the kitchen clean-up instead of disposable kitchen roll.
  • Buy refills for sturdy packs of washing powders, liquids, salt, and so on.
  • If you do print, use both sides of the paper.
  • Don’t throw away old computers – sell them online at eBay or donate them by reusing and recycling other wastes to charity.
  • Making your own lunch instead of buying from a sandwich shop saves on packaging, and could also save you more than £4 a day or about £1,000 a year.
  • Clearing out the attic? Try selling your stuff rather than taking it to the dump. Check out online auction sites like eBay or donate to charity.
  • For fixtures and fittings for use in DIY try reclamation yards, skips, auctions, and second-hand shops.
  • Mend, re-upholster, or restore old furniture before buying new.
  • Hire tools or borrow from friends or family for odd jobs, rather than buying your own.

As community you could:

  • Set up a community composting scheme
  • Fix bikes, sports equipments or furniture
  • Set up a community swap shop for clothes, books etc
  • Set up a garden community swap shop
  • Organise a monthly car boot sale for unwanted items

Alternatives to composting 

If you or your group have a lot of meat waste, it is not advisable to put this meat waste into composters. You can, however, place meat waste into domestic digesters. These are more unusual and use a combination of UV light and bacteria to breakdown organic waste, with the residue dispersing directly into the soil. Digesters are more expensive than compost bins and generally can not deal with the waste generated by more than a couple of people. Talk to your local council recycling / composting officer for further advice on food digesters.

04. Funding Opportunities

Many of the activities listed do not require additional funding, but if your group is looking to establish a wider community recycling project, such as a community composting scheme or a furniture recycling project, you might want to try your local authority. Most local authorities operate small grants schemes which may support the establishment of community focused recycling and composting activities.

The ‘Fundraising’ factsheet contains useful information and advice, and you should also refer to the up to date information on funding opportunities in the Directory. The funding advisor at your local development agency will also be to support you.

Full contact details for all local authorities and local development agencies are available in the Directory.

05. Useful Contacts

Here is a list of contacts and information sources that may be of use:

Recycle Now is a national campaign aiming to get people to reduce the amount of waste they create. Their website enables you to search your local area for recycling sites plus get information on what materials are accepted in the kerb-side recycling schemes where you live. The website is also full of great tips and guidance on recycling and composting for householders.

Community RePaint can direct you to your nearest Repaint scheme, plus support the establishment of new schemes.

The Community Composting Network provides advice and support relating to composting.

Waste Aware North East can advise on waste awareness activities in the region.

Community Recycling Network North East supports the community recycling sector in the North East. They provide targeted support and represent the interests of community waste, recycling and reuse enterprises in the region.

Freecycle is a network that enables people to advertise their unwanted goods for reuse. Here goods are exchanged with others free of charge on the basis that you may want something someone else is advertising.

Groundwork North East, through their website, can help you to find out about projects to reduce waste in your local area.

Local Authority
Recycling officers are now present in most local authorities in the North East. These officers will be able to advise groups and individuals on what local waste and recycling initiatives are available. Contact details for all local authorities are available in the Directory.

06. Checklist

Your steps to planning a successful project include:

1 Only consume what you need. Always ask the question do I need this? Especially when food shopping

2 Only replace older items or appliances, when they are no longer able to perform the role they were intended to do

3 Reuse as much as possible, for example reuse old carrier bags either for shopping or as bin liners.

4 If you can no longer make use of something that someone else might be able to make use of, offer it for sale or donate it, via an online auction site or Freecycle.

5 Recycle everything that can be recycled in your area, find out what services are on offer in your area and make use of them. Visit Recycle Now’s website to locate your local services.

6 When recycling, ensure that you place only acceptable materials in the containers.

7 Compost all suitable garden and food waste. If you have not got a garden large enough to support a compost bin, make use of either a local community composting scheme or use the local authorities green waste scheme.

07. About the Contributor

The information in this factsheet has been written by Groundwork North East, a key environmental charity supporting communities in the North East, and updated by Community Recycling Network North East, supporting the community recycling sector in the North East.

This factsheet is part of the Brighter Futures Together toolkit and provides a general overview of the different ways to get involved in your community. It is not a comprehensive guide or legal advice document. Please seek further advice and appropriate consent before commencing any projects.

The material in the factsheet is not copyrighted however we ask that you acknowledge the Brighter Futures Together toolkit when you use them.