I am a conscientious, though not obsessive, recycler. I sort dutifully through the junk mail; separate plastic and paper food packaging, recycle all jars and tins, and wash and return our empty glass bottles to the milkman when he comes for his money on a Thursday teatime. Clothes and shoes not suitable for the charity shop go to a huge sealed skip beside our community centre and are recycled. Our local council supplies different coloured bins for glass, paper, plastic, and food waste, and a complicated rota for kerbside collection which I adhere to like a good citizen. It is an easy habit to get into, and I like to think that at least some of the household waste will be reused.
Growing up in the Highlands in the 1970's, there were many examples of recycling, based not so much on the ideals of ecology, as the straightforward difficulty of disposing of unwanted items. Recycling, re-using, and re-purposing was done with a minimum of fuss, and certainly without the slight air of self-conscious congratulation that so often accompanies modern day endeavours. No field was complete without an enamel bath or sink, removed during someone's house renovation, tucked in the shelter of the hedge for the cows to drink from. Old cars, once run in to the ground, were never towed away, but left round the back of the croft to rust; put to use as a hen house, or somewhere for the cats to sleep. A childhood friend kept several generations of guinea pigs in a broken down caravan.
Smaller household items too, were not thrown out, but re-used, sometimes with disastrous results. Our childhood was peppered with stories of children who had drunk bleach from old glass lemonade bottles, kept under the kitchen sink within easy reach of small hands. Petrol, decanted into unsuitable containers, was ripe for conflagration. Old tin cans with perilously jagged edges, filled with nails or screws, caused nasty cuts, and inevitably, tetanus. Not that any of us knew what tetanus was, but it sounded terrifying.
Happier recycling examples were old biscuit tins, or pretty chocolate boxes, usually from Christmas time, hoarded with delight and filled with small treasures. Again, this was not so much due to whimsy, but because there wasn't really anywhere to buy plastic storage boxes or containers. The nearest shop was 17 miles away, and if the owner had wasted shelf space with empty containers the locals would have taken a very dim view of such frivolous behaviour.
Childhood habits can be hard to shake off, and whilst I do not have any cars rusting in the garden, or bottles of bleach decanted into child-attracting juice containers, I do find it hard to get rid of pretty tins, or cardboard boxes that are just a good, handy size. I have to absolutely force myself to recycle all the little pots that cosmetics and body care products are packed in; they are so pretty, so sturdy, and just the right size for pins, or bobbins, or icing bag nozzles, or paper clips... I have seen myself standing at the recycling bin in minor emotional turmoil over getting rid of a nice little pot or box.
Fortunately, I also have a horror of hoarding, which keeps in check my tendency to keep hold of absolutely everything that might just come in handy for a need not yet specified at some vague time in the future. I always have a charity shop bag in the house, which fills steadily with old clothes, books etc, plus more thorough clear outs a couple of times a year, which usually result in at least a dozen bin bags going to the charity shop. I encourage the boys in this habit too, occasionally asking them to tidy their rooms and identify everything as belonging to one of four categories: keep, charity, recycle/bin, loft. (The loft category must always be the smallest, it is there for things they really cannot bear to get rid of but have no immediate use for). I don't attach a judgement to what they choose to keep or not, I want them to get into the habit of feeling in control of their environment, as well as keeping their rooms tolerably tidy. I also want their rooms to hold things that they enjoy being around, feel comforted by, or use regularly.
I started writing about recycling in this post because I particularly like the vase in the photograph above. It is a good size, and perfect for showing off the vibrant orange and yellow of the daffodils. It once held a candle (from here, though bought on holiday in Wales). When the candle burned down, I melted the remaining traces of wax by warming the container in a low oven, then wiped round with some kitchen paper and the transformation, such as it was, was complete. I kept the box too, it is a good size and well made; I keep reels of thread in it. Recycling in action; thankfully it's not always about old newspapers and empty yogurt pots.