The 'Can Do' Attitude to Recycling


Aluminium cans are not just a source of visual pollution - they can be a death trap to some small creatures

David Church tells the Ecologist why he believes taking responsibility for our personal litter is a crucial part of being a green citizen, even if it might make other people feel uncomfortable.......
The whole process is a rather exciting one - like a green hobby

We all know the benefits of aluminium cans; they are light, easily mouldable and can be held in a soft grip. But are they always responsibly disposed of? Can we do more to safely protect our green spaces from these metal objects? This article explores how a small scale project can help protect the local environment through recycling in the most responsible way.

We all see aluminium drink cans littered outside whilst going about our daily lives. Yet we don't all pick them up and recycle them. But why? I think the reason lies in recycling habits within a localised area. If there are no recycling points dotted about alongside waste bins then it is difficult for any environmentally conscious walker to rid themselves of their empty cans. The only solution is to keep it until they get home, but even with a carry bag it can be a messy business.

Nevertheless, it remains an important pursuit to rid our green spaces and roadsides of these metal receptacles. If not for their unsightly appearance - they really do not camouflage well in any landscape - then thought should be taken for those small insects who are drawn to the sticky, sweet drops still left inside. For example, one particularly discoloured can became home to a nest of ants so I was unable to recycle it. On my travels in the UK I have also found slugs, snails and earwigs fall victim to the can trap.

These little creatures and our environment more widely needs protecting, so just over a month ago I decided to start can collecting. The rules were simple to follow; I would go about the normal course of my day, keeping a plastic carry bag (that would otherwise have been reused as a rubbish sack in my house) tucked inside my rucksack, picking up any cans I saw along my route. There has been three surprising consequences of this straightforward action; I have become more aware of the litter that people disperse in my local area, I have found that social pressures can at times be difficult to suppress, and I have seen so many cans that they sometimes fail to stay in just one bag.

First, I realise more than ever the importance of paid street sweepers and litter pickers; it may not be the prettiest job but we would be unable to see some of the ground we walk on if not for them. Therefore taking responsibility for personal litter can never be overstated, which I know the drinks companies do now thankfully promote.

Second, I did not realise that picking up cans, either from around my local park, on curbs (often near rubbish bins) or laying just inside litter sacks was such antisocial behaviour. My intention is to preserve local ecosystems yet I feel the judgement from others like cans thrown at my head. Granted, I never used to pick up cans (I never littered them though either) but I now see the value of protecting the habitats of those vulnerable creatures above any social status.

The whole process is a rather exciting one - like a green hobby

Third, I have managed to accumulate over a thousand aluminium cans since starting this project just over five weeks ago. This equates to approximately 27 cans per day; my current daily record is 111½. Once collected I take them home, crush them with a thick soled shoe or spade and place them in their labelled cardboard box in my shed; the current count at writing is 200 alcoholic beverages, 457 energy drinks and 407 soft drinks. My intention is when I have a great deal more I will take a special trip to my local scrap yard and exchange them for money. The whole process is a rather exciting one - like a green hobby.

So as well as making a small positive impact on the regular cleanliness of my local area and safety of small insects, I have diverted recyclable materials otherwise destined for landfill. Simultaneously I am accumulating a small amount of money for the future, which I will use to fund another ethical project. So it seems an act so simple 'can' really have an ecological knock-on effect.

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