Eco-Decluttering – What to do with it ? G to Z

Guest post by Rachel Papworth – decluttering coach and blogger. Third and final post in a series on eco-decluttering – Read parts One and Two.

I’m Rachel Papworth, from Green and Tidy. I help people with WAY too much stuff, declutter and create homes they love, homes that support them to live the lives they want to live. In this final post of the series, I look at more specific types of ‘ex-clutter’.


Glass is collected by all local authorities both from kerbsides and glass banks.

However, if a bottle is returnable, return it rather than recycle it. So return milk bottles for example. Remember, reuse is higher up the hierarchy than is recycling.

Wash bottles and jars and remove lids. Metal lids can go into can banks. Click here for advice on disposing of corks.

When using bottle banks, put the glass in the correct banks by colour. Blue glass goes in with green glass.

Only use bottle banks during the day, to avoid disturbing people who live nearby.

Reuse or recycle the bags and boxes you brought the glass in. And of course, avoid littering the area around the glass bank with them.

Glasses (spectacles)

Vision Aid Overseas collected unwanted glasses (though not cases). Every optical practice in the UK and Ireland can get glasses to Vision Aid Overseas free of charge. You can phone Vision Aid Overseas on 01293 535016 to find out which optical practices in your area collect for them.

The highest quality glasses (about ten per cent of those collected) are used in its international development programme, while the remainder are recycled.

Broken jewellery

Single earrings, broken chains, jewellery with bits missing, stopped watches…Bags of broken jewellery go fast on my local Freecycle, taken by people and charities that remake the pieces into new jewellery.

Or you can post it to Marie Curie Cancer Care, Freepost, Central Recycling, where donations are hand sorted by a professional recycling company, which sells valuable pieces and breaks-up/melts down damaged items for sale to a specialist scrap merchant.

Another option is to request a freepost bag from Jewellery Recycling. Pop your broken jewellery in the bag and send it back to them. They’ll sort it and turn it into cash for charity and you can specify the charity (or type of charity) you’d like the money to go to.

Jam jars

While glass jars can be recycled in the same way as other glass, and metal lids can be recycled with cans, jam jars can also be reused. And remember that reuse is higher up the hierarchy than recycling.

Jam jars with lids can be used to hold homemade jam while jars without lids can be used as candle holders. If you don’t want to use them yourself, you could offer them on your local Freecycle.

Light bulbs

Put incandescent light bulbs into landfill, not glass banks.

Low energy light bulbs on the other hand must not go into landfill as they contain mercury. Contact your local Council to ask where to dispose of them.

If you break a low energy light bulb:

  • Open a window or ventilate the room.
  • Put the broken bulb in a sturdy (though not necessarily airtight) plastic bag.
  • Wipe the area with a damp cloth and place the cloth in the plastic bag with the broken bulb.
  • Use sticky tape to pick up small residual pieces of powder from soft furnishings, and add the tape to the plastic bag.
  • Seal the bag.
  • Place the bag in another, similar bag and seal that one too (this minimises cuts from broken glass).
  • Dispose of the sealed bag as advised by your local Council.

Mobile phones

There are loads of organisations that will buy your mobile phone and either sell it on to developing countries or, if it’s beyond use, recycle it. And there are a variety of websites that enable you to find the best deal for the make and model you’re looking to sell. Just type ‘sell mobile phone’ into a search engine.

Organic kitchen or garden waste

Here’s Recycle Now’s guide to composting. If you don’t have a suitable space for a compost bin, an option which takes up less space, and can even be kept inside is a wormery.

Contact your local Council to find out whether they collect organic waste for composting (and encourage them to do so if not!), and/or where to take garden waste.


Community RePaint is an award-winning UK network of over 50 community-based paint reuse schemes, managed by an employee-owned, non-profit distributing environmental consultancy called Resource Futures. Unwanted paint is redistributed to local charities, community and voluntary groups and individuals in social need.

Find out what type of paint you can donate here and where to donate here.


It’s easy to get most paper recycled. Most, if not all, Councils collect it, plus there are paper recycling banks all over the place.

There’s no need to remove staples, glue, paper clips (though you could remove them for re-use) or plastic windows from envelopes, unless you are specifically told to by your Council.

Not all local authorities recycle envelopes as some paper mills can’t process the types of glue used in envelope production. Check directly with your Council or Recycle Now.

Plastic windows aren’t normally a problem for paper mills as the window can usually be screened out during the manufacturing process. Check your Council’s recycling guidelines to see if you need to remove these.

Padded ‘jiffy’ envelopes can’t usually be recycled. You can reuse them though. Just stick a piece of paper over the old address. And, if you’ve got a lot of them, I find it easy to get rid of them through Freecycle.

You might like to remove stamps though.

Shred any paper with personal information on it, to protect your identity from theft. There is conflicting advice around as to what counts as personal information. Some people go so far as to shred anything that has so much as their name, or their email address on it. Some also feel that you should shred credit card receipts that show only the last four digits of your card number.

There’s also conflicting advice about how to shred. Some people feel that a strip-cut shredder is adequate, others than you should use a cross-cut shredder (which cuts in two directions, reducing paper to diamonds rather than strips).

Bear in mind though that shredded paper is less valuable for recycling than non-shredded paper and that this is even more true of cross-cut shredded paper. The reduction in the length of the fibres reduces the quality of the recycled paper that can be produced.

Not all Councils collect shredded paper. If yours doesn’t, you might be able to avoid sending it to landfill by using it as animal bedding (mixed with straw) or composting it. Or you could offer it on Freecycle for such uses.

If you are shredding credit card receipts, remember that thermal paper can’t be recycled, so you shouldn’t put the pieces in with other shredded paper going for recycling.

Opened cosmetics and toiletries

It’s worth offering these on Freecycle.


Plastics present several recycling challenges, including the fact that different types of plastic can’t be recycled together. The different types of plastic are identified by Plastic Identification Codes (PICs), as shown in the table on this webpage.

Nonetheless, more and more local authorities are now accepting plastic bottles via recycling banks or kerbside collections. When recycling plastic bottles, you will usually need to remove lids (and put them into landfill) and wash & squash the bottles. If they have a loosely-attached paper label, I remove this before washing, and put it in the paper recycling.

Reduce the number of plastic bottle you use by avoiding buying bottled water. Buy a good quality water bottle instead and fill it with tap water. UK mains tap water supply is totally safe to drink and of extremely high quality: one of the best in the world. In taste tests across the UK, people can rarely tell the difference between bottled water and tap water if they are served the same way (fresh from the mains and cool).

Some also accept carrier bags. And there are carrier bag collection points in most Sainsburys, Tescos and Somerfields. Try to reduce your use of carrier bags though. Take durable shopping bags with you when you go shopping and turn down offers of carrier bags. Remember reuse is higher up the waste hierarchy than reuse or recycling.

Contact your local Council or check Recycle Now‘s searchable database to find out what plastics are recycled in your area.

Printer and toner cartridges

Printer and toner cartridges are collected by a wide range of local and national charities, to raise funds. Some such organisations are listed here.

Safety pins

Some dry cleaners will accept safety pins as they use them to attach labels to garments.


Most UK Councils collect food and drink cartons, otherwise known as tetrapaks. Check Recycle Now‘s searchable database for the situation in your area.


In some local authority areas, there are Toy Banks on the street for complete, reusable toys, including teddies, dolls, games and battery-operated toys. The toys are distributed within the UK or taken to Pakistan, where they are cleaned, repaired if necessary, and sold on at affordable prices, to raise money for charity.

Used stamps

Many local and national charities collect used stamps to raise money. Just put “used stamps” into an internet search engine.

Vinyl records

Some charities, such as Oxfam and the British Hearth Foundation, run specialist charity shops for music, including vinyl records.

Anything else?

I’m committed to helping people reduce their environmental impact. If you know of other ways to move on unwanted goods, please tell me about it via my contact form so I can spread the word.

And, if there’s something you’re struggling to find a way to dispose of, let me know and I’ll see if I can find an eco-friendly solution. You’re probably not the only one. Visit my site at Green and Tidy.

Photo by London Looks via Flickr

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