Five Ways To Make Your Recycling Easier

This week I have teamed up with Beyond The Box, a campaign dedicated to promoting the benefits of cardboard in response to growing consumer concern about packaging.

how to make your recycling easier via
how to make your recycling easier via

I don’t know about you but while some companies are getting better there are still way too many that seem to include plastic for the sake of it. Who needs their new knickers to arrive on mini-hangers that you can’t even re-use much less recycle? And how many times do you open a cardboard package to find a plastic bag inside?

Growing media interest about the environmental impact of packaging, new government policy and plastic-free packaging strategies has pushed packaging to the forefront of consumers’ minds. In response, the ‘Beyond the Box’ campaign was launched with the aim to help us learn more about cardboard and its credentials as a sustainable packaging choice.

pretty up your recycling bins by hayley stuart for beyond the box campaign
pretty up your recycling bins by hayley stuart for beyond the box campaign

But despite this we are still not recycling our cardboard enough. Beyond the Box has carried out research to try and find out why this is – after all cardboard is cardboard – it’s not like trying to identify which sort of plastic your yoghurt came in and working out if you can recycle it or not.

Research carried out over the last year found that some people are still failing to recycle. Fourteen per cent said they just couldn’t be bothered and 13.5 per cent felt there was no point.

Cardboard ticks all the boxes as it’s recyclable, renewable, reusable as well as being biodegradable and the paper fibres used to create it can be re-used up to seven times. And it’s the easiest thing of the lot to recycle.

recycling area by @laura_charlotte24 for beyond the box campaign
recycling area by @laura_charlotte24 for beyond the box campaign

But one of the issues, I think, is the amount of space needed for recycling. I’m lucky where I live because I can wash everything and stick it in one bin and the council takes responsibility for sorting it so it takes up less room in my house. But I have friends outside the capital who have to sort and separate the card from the paper and the plastic from the glass which can take up more space.

Beyond The Box found that 55 per cent of us admit to never finding the time to throw things away or sort them out.

So how can we make recycling easier?

recycling storage bench by @emeraldterrace for beyond the box
recycling storage bench by @emeraldterrace for beyond the box

1 You need to find a space for your recycling boxes. Remember how excited we all get in September at the thought of new stationery? Well, we need to take that attitude into creating our recycling spaces.

The first thing is to look at products designed to do the job. Joseph Joseph has created a compact split recycling bin for the bathroom after learning that while some of us were meticulous about kitchen recycling, we fail to do to the same in the bathroom. Reasoning that might be partly down to the fact that most of us only have one bin in there they came up with a split version with two compartments so you can stick the empty loo rolls and cardboard in one side and the empty beauty products (glass and plastic) in the other.

joseph joseph split recycling bin

It costs £30 so that’s that excuse dealt with.

recycling area by @podandherpeas for beyondthebox campaign
recycling area by @podandherpeas for beyondthebox campaign

2 Another idea which can be used in either the kitchen or the bathroom is to buy a compartmentalised laundry bin. They are mostly designed for lights and darks, but some have another compartment for all the colours in between. This can live in either the kitchen or the bathroom, or even, if you live in a flat or have a tiny bathroom, on a landing, in a hallway or a bedroom. The point is that if it looks nice you won’t mind it being on show. Unlike that ugly black plastic bucket that you want to hide away.

use this slimline shoe storage unit from ikea to store your recycling
use this slimline shoe storage unit from ikea to store your recycling

3 Talking of adapting existing pieces of furniture, those slim fit shoe cabinets from Ikea (try the Hemnes) are only 22cm deep and will fit into the slimmest of spaces. If you flatten your plastic bottles, squash your tins and collapse your cardboard you can store a fair amount of recycling in them and keep it out of sight before you transfer it to the outside bins.

labelled recycling area by for beyond the box campaign
labelled recycling area by for beyond the box campaign

4 Create your own recycling unit by buying either pretty baskets or boxes and working out what needs to store where. Rattan baskets always look pretty, and I have used the Hay recycled plastic crates in my bathroom.

5 Make space for your recycling. This is one of the biggest issues we all have to face. Recycling takes up space. If you have having a new kitchen fitted, designers are probably already on this and are adding extra cupboards or coming up with clever storage ideas to incorporate recycling into your kitchen. For the rest of us it’s about retro-fitting. I reckon most of us could free up at least one cupboard for this job by getting rid of all the plastic storage which no longer matches any lids or taking that unused juicer to the tip or charity shop.

box for recycling cardboard made from recycled cardboard by amie holttt for beyond the box campaign
box for recycling cardboard made from recycled cardboard by @amieholttt for beyond the box campaign

Once your cupboard is clear, keep back one small storage box to keep all the used batteries until you have enough to take to a recycling point, and store all the flattened cardboard on a shelf if you have one. Then have an open box on the bottom into which you can easily throw the plastic and tins which you have squashed to take up less space.

By making your recycling point accessible and attractive you are more likely to use it and to feel like sorting things out rather than leaving them lying around. If you want to be really organised, you can print out the recycling days and stick it to the inside of the cupboard door so you can see at a glance what needs to go out when.

hide your recycling bins by @the_willow_tree for beyond the box campaign
hide your recycling bins by @the_willow_tree for beyond the box campaign

I hope that has inspired you to create your own recycling point. I have illustrated this post with some ideas created by others working on this campaign who have made spaces outside and in small apartments to give us all some ideas of what we can do.









Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.


  1. One thing that hasn’t been mentioned is composting. If you have any outdoor space then a compost bin, hot bin or wormery can be used to recycle cardboard and fruit and veg peelings. Plus you make free compost reducing the need to buy compost in plastic bags.

  2. One added comment. Before we are finished with sorting and recycling, we should also cut any elastics, and the bottoms of any plastic bags. This is to prevent any wildlife becoming caught and suffocating. Watching a film on recycling I noted that if plastic wrapping is bagged separately from household garbage, it is easily identifiable at the sorting plant. I have a bin and bin liner for containers and tetra boxes in the cupboard under the kitchen sink; a separate cardboard box for papers, etc, and a grocery bag for all plastic wrappings which I keep in my pantry. These are all emptied on a weekly basis. I am vegetarian, so no lingering meat nor fish, nor poultry odours.

  3. Does anyone have a lead on a good and practical garden wheelie bin store that isn’t ugly, weak, or hundreds of pounds?

  4. Unfortunately some cardboard, often skincare or make up packaging is covered with a barely discernible plastic covering, which means that it can’t be recycled with paper & cardboard, or at all! Companies really need to stop doing this!

  5. On the surface, some great ideas that look good.. but important to check where some of these are made. I believe most Joseph Joseph and ikea products are made in China or some other far-away country where manufacturing is cheaper. Recycling v global warming and exploiting cheap labour.
    Also, how many of us actually check recycling labels carefully (make sure that lids are on milk and juice cartons, for instance)? Some supermarkets have bins where you can return soft plastics and things like crisp packets for recycling, which I take advantage of.
    Life would be so much easier if Govt and local councils employed joined up thinking and introduced a countrywide policy. There’s so much variation it’s no wonder that many people can’t be bothered/can’t see the point!

  6. Some very useful and important ideas here. Please can you tell me what the five containers sitting within the ‘storage bench’ by emeraldterrace are made of? Ditto the bins making up the recycling area by podandherpeas? I’ve tried to go to the suppliers, but am having trouble accessing that info. Many, many thanks for your help.

  7. Good morning from Philadelphia, I hope your recycling is going better than here where only 7-9% of plastic is recycled and even glass goes into landfill. Very discouraging so it comes down to buying less, finding refill places. But in the food scraps department we’re fortunate to have 5 hens living across the street. I save my scraps in a bag in the freezer, make veg stock and then walk the cooked remains over to the girls. Since we’re vegan I don’t have meat bits but those could go to chickens too, just not citrus according to their keeper. But popping the veg bits in the freezer means that after a couple of weeks I have enough to make a quart of stock and no smells.

  8. Great post Kate!
    IKEA do fantastic recycling systems for pull out drawers. We inherited a 900mm wide pull out drawer under our sink which has two big bins (one for recycling and one for main rubbish) and it also fits the food recycling in there as well (meaning we don’t have the revolting food waste on the worktop – yuk!)
    It’s all hidden away so is fantastic but we use it every day as the recycling is right there next to the bin – no excuses.
    We live in Lambeth where the council launched a one rubbish bag a week policy two years ago. It’s amazing how little general rubbish is created if you recycle properly! We usually have a third of a bag a week and that’s mostly soft plastics. Everything else goes in the recycling bin.

  9. Good post. Those planted bins by Hayley Stuart look sweet but won’t work because you will have to drag the whole bin out from the store to put anything in it. You have to have a lid on the whole storage unit that lifts so you can leave the top of the bin open inside the unit and just lift the lid on the unit to chuck stuff in every time you empty your cardboard/paper/glass/plastic collection. My next job is to replace the revolting countertop food waste caddy (grey, with a lovely Lewisham council crown logo on it) with a nice one from Joseph Joseph. We have tucked the cardboard/paper/plastic/glass recycling bin on the door inside the cupboard under the sink, and the non-recyclable waste bins into another cupboard, from which they slide out. We don’t generate a lot of bathroom waste, so can manage with one bin. I wish Redken did refills of shampoo and conditioner. Ditto Curel for skincare. I’m not willing to give up products that work for me to switch to refillable brands. This should be easier.

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