I don’t know about you, but try as I might, I always feel I could do more when it comes to recycling. I guess a lot of us feel like that. Despite our streets being lined with over-flowing recycling bins evidencing that as a nation, we’re making good progress, I believe there’s the general consensus that more can be done. We’re repeatedly reminded in the media of the damage we’re causing our planet, especially the plastics filling our oceans, but for the last few years, despite said overflowing recycling bins and local refuse centres coping with more traffic than the M25, I think it’s obvious further steps are required to ensure our struggling oceans, filthy rivers and stained land can recover.

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As a family, we try our best; we recycle everything that’s obviously recyclable – certain plastics, tins, cans, glass and cardboard, and we do our utmost to figure out if those annoying anomalies (namely, other plastics – what’s the big deal with black plastic trays everyone?!) can be recycled or not. But as I said, we try our best; there’s so much confusion around certain items that I’m sure some waste wrongly heads for the recycling centre, whilst others will unfortunately end up in landfill when they could have gone on to have a much fuller life (I’m thinking the dull existence of an anti-bac spray that then becomes a cherished children’s toy – there’s a film in there somewhere… Hollywood, I’m waiting by the phone).

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I’ve always felt that one of the reasons recycling isn’t at a level it needs to be, is because of lack of information and guidance from the top – governments, councils and the large corporations who are producing the plastic-wasting products. Governments could be stricter and impose tighter regulations on product design and packaging guidelines, plus set local authorities attractive recycling targets. Borough councils could invest more and recycle more often. Our recycling for example gets collected bi-weekly, so by that point the recycling bin is full, the bag we use in the house has been filled and emptied multiple times and there just isn’t the space for any more items. As a family we’re incredibly conscious about our recycling, so I take any extras to the local recycling point myself, but I’m sure numerous families will resort to sticking additional items straight in the bin. Finally, and I should state I’m no expert when it comes to plastic production, packaging and freight considerations, but surely the firms producing the waste could use more sustainable materials, make recycling instructions clearer and provide more incentives for people to re-use items. I’d also happily pay a little extra for an item if it was wrapped in a recyclable material, and I’m sure I’m not alone given the change in consciousness towards our environment now.

In our household, we try and go a little further to help the environment whilst also teaching our children some valuable lessons. Given the information we have, as much waste as possible is recycled in a traditional way, but we also try and go a little further to ensure items don’t become single use. To encourage the children to be more aware of recycling and understand that not everything needs to be chucked after it’s been used, they’ll often plant seeds in old yogurt pots, thus demonstrating to them that items bound for landfill can be used in different way. We also encourage them to get creative with cardboard, plastic bottles and anything else they can get their hands on to create extravagant rockets or impenetrable suits of armour. We also keep a box in the boot of the car for recycling on-the-go (as lots of towns centres and attractions only offer simply conventional bins), and the kids are aware to keep hold of their bottles until they can be dumped in the boot. So, we’re doing our best, but as I said, I’d love to do more.

Given that only 58% of plastic bottles in the UK are recycled, there’s insufficient levels of recycled plastics (rPET) in our system, which in turn makes it difficult for these companies to produce bottles made from higher proportions of recycled materials. Coca-Cola currently has 25% rPET and has committed to achieving 50% by 2020. By simply recycling one extra bottle per week, we could make huge differences to the current system, thus allowing producers such as Coca-Cola to increase the amount of usable recycled plastic in their products. If a brand the size of Coca-Cola is committing to such targets then hopefully, other corporations will quickly follow suit.

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Coca-Cola recently challenged me to make recycling more fun for the family. As I mentioned, we already plant seeds and make extravagant costumes, but in truth, whilst it’s a fun thing to do, sometimes we might just be prolonging the items ending up in waste, rather than actually recycling them. So, with that in mind, I set about creating a new activity.

My children love a challenge and love competition. Despite a three-year age gap, my 2-year-old son, Arlo gives as good as he gets when it comes to taking on his 5-year-old sister, Edie and it often becomes very evenly matched. Whether it’s a running race, the first to brush their teeth or what is seemingly their favourite activity; wrestling, they’re fiercely competitive. Arlo’s at a stage where he’s repeatedly telling us he’s a big boy, perhaps it’s a desperate attempt to be allowed more freedom or it could be to simply keep up with his sister. His height and his age seem increasingly important to him of late, and he loves to be measured against the wall every few days (like, literally every few days – we’re running out of space to mark exactly the same spot on the wall). So, with all this in mind, I could have simply told them to collect as many plastic bottles as possible and the winner would get, I don’t know, an extra dollop of ice cream, but that wouldn’t keep them interested for long. Instead, I set them the challenge to collect as many bottles as possible over a week, and not just at home, whilst we were out and about too. When laid out, if their bottles matched or exceeded their height, they received a prize – in this case, a fun and reusable drinks bottle of their choice so they wouldn’t constantly need to buy bottles on-the-go.

As you can see the competition was a great success! Both children were always on the lookout for bottles and even encouraging me and my wife, Georgia, to finish the sparkling water bottles unnecessarily quickly after working out just a few of them would see the height of their collections soar! After a week of collecting plastic bottles, both children succeeded in the challenge, despite Edie being at a disadvantage for being taller (thankfully she didn’t pick up on the fact she required more bottles!). Arlo won, but because of Edie’s disadvantage, I thought it was only fair that both were rewarded for their brilliant recycling.

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It’s great to see brands with the power of Coca-Cola leading the charge to change our recycling habits and their own production methods. With more instruction, encouragement and fun initiatives from the top, families, including ourselves, can do so much more. Together, we can make a change.

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