Waste not, want not

Activities to do at home to learn all about recycling
Reading time: 4 minutes


What does recycling mean? And separate waste collection? Recycling means transforming waste into reusable materials.

We can think of waste recycling as a set of strategies aimed at recovering useful materials from waste, so that they can be reused rather than disposed of in a landfill site.

This means:

  • Saving money
    • avoiding a waste of potentially useful materials
    • ensuring greater sustainability of the materials production/utilisation cycle
  • Respecting nature
    • reducing the use of energy
    • moderating greenhouse gas emissions
    • limiting the consumption of raw materials

There is increasing talk, however, about the “recycling system”, referring to the entire production process and not just the final phase; this involves:

  • for the production of goods, the use of biodegradable materials which facilitate the natural disposal of material when the product becomes waste
  • the use of recyclable materials, avoiding materials that are more difficult to recycle
  • separate waste collection, an essential step in the process


A glance at the history of recycling

Waste recycling is a practise that people have been carrying out for a very long time. Recycling has ancient origins: indeed, in wartime and in periods when resources were scarce, waste was selected and reused as much as possible. Here are a few examples:

  • scraps of metal were melted down multiple times to produce identical or similar tools
  • ash and coal were reused as a base material to produce bricks
  • During the Second World War, Great Britain recycled paper to aid the war effort (“Paper Salvage”, 1939)

In the twentieth century, after an impasse due to the end of the emergency, the environmental movement enjoyed a huge boom in the ’60s and ’70s, which culminated with the first Earth Day in 1970.


Waste and separate waste collection

In waste management, separate waste collection is a key element of the recycling chain because it enables the reduction, selection, collection and recovery of materials from solid urban waste, that is to say, from rubbish that is thrown away, and with separate household waste collection, people separate the various types of waste at home before placing rubbish in dedicated collection bins (initial waste sorting by the public).

The end goal is therefore to sort waste into differentiated types, so that it can be earmarked for the most suitable disposal or recovery treatment, which can range from landfill or incineration/waste-to-energy for residual unsorted waste, to composting for organic waste and recycling for sorted recyclables (paper, glass, aluminium, steel, plastic).


Also, the type of recycling that is most efficient in terms of having a low environmental impact and cost (efficient recycling) is reuse, in other words using waste again. Once an object is no longer used, it does not simply add to the growing mountain of waste but, after a simple cleaning process, it is reused again, so the materials it is made of do not undergo any kind of transformation.

A classic example is that of glass jars and bottles, like milk and water bottles, which instead of being ground down can simply be washed and filled again, without undergoing costly (especially from an environmental point of view) transformation processes; this way, they can be used for homemade jams or for freshly squeezed juices.

This is one of the key elements for the transition towards a circular economy.

Recyclable materials

What can be recycled? Recyclable materials include all waste which can be reused to produce identical new objects, or to make new materials.

Materials that can be recycled are:

  • steel
  • aluminium
  • paper and cardboard
  • wood
  • plastic
  • tyres
  • organic waste
  • fabrics
  • glass

Sorting your household waste

Growth in consumption and urbanisation has led to an increase in waste production and this problem is further compounded by bad consumer habits. It is therefore increasingly necessary to implement educational measures right from childhood to increase awareness of this issue in children and youngsters, the citizens of tomorrow.

A fun, educational activity that you can do at home with your children is to create personalised bins for separate waste collection (for children’s rooms or study areas) using waste materials like old cardboard boxes or packaging from toys, which are no longer needed and just take up space in the house or loft. The first step is to choose containers of a suitable size for the materials they need to contain, after which they can be coloured according to the code standardised in UNI 11686:2017, or with the colours used in your council area.

Next, each bin can be personalised with graphics, writing and objects salvaged from waste material, perhaps even using by way of example (and as a reminder) more “complicated” materials to separate (stationery material, biscuit packaging, baking paper, tracing paper and carbon copy paper, etc.). For some types of materials, you can ask your local council or waste collection authority which specific waste collection bin to use.

An activity like this helps to develop various different skills and is a fun way for children to memorise not just the information, but also the emotions felt. Emotions that they can subsequently relive when they think back and remember all the things they learned.

Separate waste collection alone is not enough; we also have to think about waste recovery strategies. The Internet offers countless videotutorials and instructions for making fun, creative objects and toys with recovered materials, with something to suit all tastes and age groups, this is just one example.


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