Reduce, Re-use, Recycle

Reduce, Re-use, Recycle

Some of you will have seen the new Essential Standards for IBHS Hostels and noticed that they now contain a paragraph asking hostel owners to, “Endeavour to run their hostels in an environmentally friendly way”. To some extent, it is our fault that this was included, as it is something we feel very strongly about. I should add that it was included only after consultation with the Management Committee and with the agreement of IBHS Members at the AGM.  As a punishment, I have been delegated to write something about this.

I need to say at the start that it would be presumptuous of me to tell you how you should run your hostel.  All I can do is write about what we do and hope that you pick up some ideas. We are no saints and many (most) of our own daily activities could be deemed to be environmentally unfriendly. The world won’t be saved by re-cycling one drink can, but every little helps. In this article I will focus on the last two words in the heading; re-use and recycle. Reduce encompasses the likes of fixtures, fittings, energy use and lifestyle and is possibly another article. (Stop groaning.)Why do we do it?  Not just because we’re stingy Scots (by birth and by adoption). It’s to conserve resources as well as to reduce the volume of our waste, which means that we pay less for that waste to be removed. We also hope that there is an element of education. Some of our customers have not attempted re-cycling before so we hope that they take some ideas away with them. We try to make it as easy as possible for them by providing convenient and clearly labelled bins in the hostel.  What we do here is dictated by how things are re-cycled locally and I want to stress that a special journey should NEVER be made. Always fit a visit to the depot in with an essential journey. Most supermarkets now have some recycling facilities.


Our local can bank is a metal bank; aluminium and steel do not have to be separated. We ask customers to wash all cans although many don’t bother and some food cans make a dreadful mess.  Our bin is checked every day and ‘nasty’ food cans are extracted and rinsed (rice sticks dreadfully). We provide a crusher for drink cans but we end up doing most of the crushing ourselves. The cans are stored in our garage until they can be taken to the can bank which is three miles away in the village where the nearest money bank is.


We no longer have a paper bank locally due to the increased cost of transporting paper from the highlands to where it can be re-cycled, so we have had to do some lateral thinking to find uses for it.  As you know there is more than just paper, it breaks down into several types;


These go to a friend who has rabbits and guinea pigs.  It is used for bedding and he has assured us that one day he will make a papier-mach√© canoe! We scrunch some up to use for fire lighting.

A4 Sheets

If only one side has been used it goes into a pile to be re-used for non-essential printing.  We are currently experimenting with a hand-cranked shredder and have used some paper for chickens/pet bedding and some for composting.

Glossy Magasines

These go to friends, a charity shop or doctors/dentists surgery so at least they get more than one use.


There is no re-cycling facility locally but there is one in Inverness.  Unfortunately we have found it impractical to store cardboard for disposal on our infrequent trips to the big town. We use some to keep the weeds down on our veggie patch and some to light the wood burner; toilet roll tubes make excellent firelighters.


We ask customers to wash out all bottles & jars, quite a few do but food remains can be a problem (especially cook-in sauce). As with the cans it is important to check these bins every day (as you would any other bin in the hostel) and rinse out the really grotty bottles. Suitable jars are dropped off to local jam-makers and the remainder of the glass is stored in our garage until we’re making a journey which will take us by a bottle bank.


Our two hens enjoy treats such as carrot peelings, melon seeds and lettuce. We provide collection boxes (4L ice-cream tubs) and compost everything of vegetable origin: vegetables, fruit, peelings, coffee grounds, tea bags/leaves and eggshells.  We empty these in to the compost bin where it is mixed with shredded paper, torn cardboard, grass clippings, other garden waste and soiled bedding from the hen-house. Up here, because we have quite a short warm period (once known as summer) it takes about a year to rot down but when it is put back on the garden it just looks like good soil with lots of eggshell bits. When we have fishermen to stay, if they need worms we have a ready supply.  Amazing and saves us buying compost from B & Q.


Other than carrier bags, there is no facility for re-cycling plastic in the highlands.  As there are many different sorts of plastic I feel that it may take a long time before we get one, so this has to go in our rubbish bin. The carriers are re-used as bin liners or taken to the charity shop for re-use but could be returned to a supermarket for recycling.

Abandoned belongings

Quite a lot of clothing, towels and assorted ‘stuff’ are left behind. Our policy on non-perishables is that we record what, when and where, keep them for two weeks and then, if unclaimed, dispose of them. Clothing and equipment is used by us, given to the local charity shop for sale or re-cycling or put into the clothing bank. Suitable food and toiletries are put into ‘please use’ boxes in the hostel. Beer, wine and whisky are treated as gifts to us from contented customers.

The remainder

So what ends up in our bin? Not a lot.  Plastic, cardboard and some of the other things I have mentioned.  All the landfill rubbish from our house and hostel fits easily into one wheelie-bin most weeks. We would like to do more.  What can we do with batteries or electrical equipment? It’s scary to dump batteries in landfill and seems wasteful to simply ditch electrical goods. Legislation is already here for fridges and is on the way for other electric goods and cars – so far no-one has left us with a car, thank goodness.

Some visitors, e.g. those from Germany or Holland are really impressed as so few hostels in Britain make any obvious effort at re-cycling. Some customers find it hard to put things in the correct bin but most do try. If we find things in the wrong bin we point out (very pleasantly) that we would prefer if they would use the re-cycling bins. I have heard that we have sparked off much animated debate in the hostel along the lines of, is a foil lined juice container paper, metal, or neither? and should left over haggis be composted?   I would like to think at least some of our customers take a few ideas away with them. They have learned from our hostel that they only need to make a few changes to reduce the amount of rubbish they produce.  I know some of you will ask what the point is when the general public throw away millions of tons of usable stuff every day. Just because they do it does not mean that you and your hostel have to follow their example. If the western world carries on the way it is going then we will run out of more than just holes in the ground in the next few decades.

I hope you found this article of interest and if you have any comments or ideas please contact us

  ¬© Peter Main – 2002

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