The Aesthetics of Recycling

The Aesthetics of Recycling

Posted on 19. Oct, 2011 by in Real-World Ideas

What comes to mind when you hear the word recycling? Do you ever think of anything more aesthetic than an iconic plastic recycling bin?

My household’s recycling system is pretty basic. When we moved to our house seven years ago, I was ecstatic to have a garage — not so much for storing our car and bikes, but rather for the recycling area I planned to set up.

I had lived in a lot of small or unusually shaped spaces. In one apartment, the interior stairs were transformed by necessity into a library (a nightmare to dust). In another apartment, a tiny kitchen hid behind a closet door (which made perfect sense to me, a truly uninspired cook). And in yet another living space, a large closet became a guest room when overnight visitors passed through town (an arrangement that never would have made it to the three-day-stink test).

Now that I had a little breathing room, I wanted to set up a recycling system that would be easy and completely functional, while being accessible in an out-of-the-way sort of way. I placed a plastic shelving unit behind the garage service door and slid four blue plastic recycling bins side by side on two lower shelves. The upper shelves provided ample space for collecting reusable household donations, burned out CFLs, old electronics, number-five plastics and other items that need to be disposed of or recycled at specific facilities.

Our sustainability project is also very simple. We collect recyclables during the week inside a covered stainless steel garbage bin on our back porch. When it’s full, someone (usually me) takes it to the garage and noisily sorts all the items into the various categories collected on our curb every Tuesday morning.

This is about as fancy as our household recycling program gets. It’s beautifully functional, which obviously trumps plain-old beauty. We’re certainly not the least fancy on the block, however; neighbors across the street store their bins on the front lawn and toss recyclables into them al fresco throughout the week. Not aesthetically ideal, but it gives me pleasure to know they actively recycle and are setting a solid example for their three young children.

Of course, there are folks who inhabit the other side of the spectrum with truly inspiring and downright attractive recycling systems. Check out the links below. Maybe you’ll be inspired to adapt your own system with a few of these ideas from

  • Recyclable Recycling – “Recycling Made Easy”
  • Indoor Sorting – “Separate Recycling Bins?”
  • Eschewing the Bin – “Folding Recycling Bags from Gaiam”
  • Recycling by Design – “Recycling Organization Options”

My recycling system is not at all sexy like some of these examples. But it’s entirely functional. And the plastic shelves and bins were free — the shelves belong to a family member and we inherited the recycling bins from our home’s previous owners. I guess there’s a little reuse going on in my recycling system to boot!

Any idiosyncrasies to your recycling system?

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