Why You Should Care About Recycling with Melanie Rees

Why You Should Care About Recycling with Melanie Rees

How To Recycle Plastic

“It is VERY important that you follow instructions for your recycling as contamination causes HUGE problems….. “ Says Melanie Rees. 

I recently caught up with Melanie Rees, Teacher, Asian Tsunami survivor and founder of the Brighton Green Centre, Oceans 8 Brighton and numerous other grass roots projects.  Including Day For Change, a national non-uniform day which is now run by UNICEF and is their most successful fundraiser to date.  The Green Centre is a grass roots environmental project focused on activities centered around One Planet Living which she still runs along with a dedicated team of volunteers.

Her expertise on all things recyclable and how / where it can be recycled is insane.   I asked her for some tips and advice to help anyone wanting to do more about their recycling or wanting to take action; what inspired her onto this journey; and how to deal with those who feel that the task of tackling waste is hopeless.   I love her sage advice and practical responses and I know you will too. 

“It started initially with a diagnosis of Lupus followed very shortly thereafter by being in the Asian Tsunami.” Says Melanie.

How did you get involved with rubbish and recycling? 

It started initially with a diagnosis of Lupus followed very shortly thereafter by being in the Asian Tsunami. The first robbed me of my energy, the second nearly took my life. It made me focus and the environment is what grabbed my attention. I started in 2006 on George Street, Brighton with a paste table and followed the ebb and flow of the city; listening to people, going where I was invited; schools, businesses, fairs and festivals and responding to the ideas of the community, always supported by a group of committed volunteers.  After three years we took a premises in East Brighton and the Green Workshop transformed into the Green Centre.

The Oceans 8 poster was your idea, where did it come from?

I was doing research for a curriculum I am developing based on the Principles of One Planet Living. While exploring the salaries of actors and actresses I came across the poster for the movie Ocean’s 8 and thought of it literally – 8 women looking after the ocean. I made a list of women leading projects in Brighton & Hove  which focus on plastic pollution and it just so happened nearly all of them were at an event I attended. I showed them the poster and asked them if they would like to be in a new version. They all said yes!

What does the Ocean mean to you?

It means many things. I grew up on the Gower Peninsula in South Wales and so I spent a LOT of time by the sea. It gives me a sense of space. I seek it out for cleansing.

As I was in the Asian Tsunami I know its immense power and potential for destruction. I am deeply respectful of it.

What are the key components for setting up a successful grass roots campaign?

Ingredients :
  1. A well thought out, simple, clear core message – when things get crazy, you will need this to keep you grounded. 
  2. Bravery – dare to be different and think outside the box for creative solutions.
  1.  Learn to flow, because things never work out as you plan / imagine.
  2.  Stick with it. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
  1. A business mentor.
  2. A roll of wallpaper & a bunch of coloured markers – fantastic for mind maps / planning / story boards / problem solving / etc.

What hurdles have you overcome in your waste journey, how did you overcome them and what did you learn ?


  • Lack of volunteers – Trust the Universe and it will always send you an angel, sometimes several!
  • Having to move from our premises – think outside the box, we bought a double decker bus.
  • Trying to inform Brighton & Hove residents that the City Council only accept plastic bottles for recycling – still struggling with this one.

What are bad recommendations that you hear?

  • Better recycling is the answer to tackling plastic pollution.
  • Compostable / Biodegradable packaging is the answer to tackling plastic pollution.
  • The Green Centre can recycle anything.

“Slow down. Consume less. Share more.” Key advice from Melanie.

What would you say to someone who thinks it is too late, the problem is too big, or that their actions won’t make a difference?

At the core of every positive action is a love for our planet and a respect for that which provides for our every need. That is all any of us can do.  

If you could make poster that would reach millions and millions of people, including policy makers and educators what would it show or what would it say?

Slow down. Consume less. Share more.

What book has influenced you the most and why? 

The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight – Thom Hartmann / because it explains Global Warming and Climate Change in a really clear way AND because it suggests women are the key to tackling it. 

What films have influenced you the most and why?


  • The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil / because it really demonstrates how people can come together to tackle a problem.
  • Albatross / stunningly beautiful piece of cinematography.  

What have you bought recently that cost under £50 and has made the biggest impact in your life or to your cause?

I am about to buy two pieces of foam to replace the badly sagging cushions on my second hand sofa bed which I paid £20 for. I sit on it every day, so it will have a big impact on my life. 

Mel’s top misconception  about ‘rubbish’:


“That our personal waste is someone else’s responsibility.”

Melanie’s key piece of advice:

Be part of the solution. Get involved by volunteering. 

Melanie has been listening to what people want and creating resources and finding answers for many years.  One resource she helped create over the last 6 years is the A-Z of Recycling which can be found here.  Although focussed in part on the Green Centre in Brighton it includes vital tips on what can be recycled, where and by whom and includes many schemes that are available nationally.  I am not aware of any other project quite like it, but wouldn’t it be great if every city had one, or if there was funding available to grow this to a bigger or even a national project!

I would love to hear your comments or if you have any questions for Melanie you can raise them with her direct, in the comments box below, or on my Facebook Page.

To learn more about Melanie and her projects:

  Website: www.thegreencentre.co.uk Facebook: The Green Centre – Brighton Twitter: @BtonGreenCentre E-mail: info@thegreencentre.co.uk  

Podcast Episode 7: Melanie talks about the origins of the Green Centre

Listen to Melanie on my latest podcast episode! She talks about recycling in Brighton and Hove, the stories of our stuff and sustainable solutions and how slowing down and trusting the universe enables us to achieve great things.

What Do You Actually Want For The Future Of Plastic Products?

What Do You Actually Want For The Future Of Plastic Products?

Trash Talk

I recently attended a talk by City Girl Network and Creative Bloom, who have set out to collect and present data to brand giants such as Unilever.  They hope to influence groundbreaking changes to products with their #TrashTalk campaign to safeguard the future of our planet and have set up a survey to enable your opinions to be presented to major brands.  This survey has now closed but it has been turned into a white paper with the aim to influence positive change for the future of plastic packaging. 

There was a recent government consultation on plastics with record responses illustrating the current appetite for change.  This will be used to hopefully influence policy whereas Trash Talk will be directly presented to the brands themselves meaning you have the opportunity to make a difference at the coal face.  The #TrashTalk campaign inspired me to learn a bit more about the issues of packaging.


Why should you care?

In the UK we produce over 200 million tonnes of waste per year – that’s equivalent to over a million blue whales!  Household waste is a key area to tackle and something that we can all impact and have our say.  Currently, of the plastics we use only 3% are recycled in the UK (DEFRA stats).

Plastic waste will be around long after any of us. We are leaving a plastic legacy for our Great Great Great Great Great Great Grandchildren to deal with.  Since Blue Planet aired on TV both the press and public are more aware of the plastic issue.  But I really hope that this discussion will begin to focus more on long term sustainable solutions rather than just the problem.  I am inspired by kids like Amy and Ella Meek  taking matters into their own hands, cleaning beaches and campaigning for change.  As part of the 70s born plastics era who helped to create this problem I also want to do my bit.  Please join me in my rebellion against rubbish.


Change is Easy and Possible

You only need look at the success of the plastic bag charge to see how easy change can be. A 90% reduction in one year by the introduction of a mere 5p charge per bag (25p total on an average shop). It is now normal to take bags to the shop with you.

With that normalisation in mind, what would happen if all single use coffee cups were banned? Would the world fall apart?  Probably not.  More likely, it would become normal to sit in and drink your coffee.  Or use a reuse cup or maybe just go without (shock horror!).  Take away coffee wasn’t a thing not long ago. What has truly changed that means that this is now an essential part of our daily lives?

Consider the ‘Hidden Rucksack’

Ecological (or ‘Hidden’) Rucksacks represent the materials used and the impacts of a product that are not within the product itself.  Kind of like a hidden waste footprint.

An example would be an aluminium can. To make a can from virgin material it would likely be mined in Australia or South Africa, often with the social impact of turfing indigenous people off land.  The carbon footprint would therefore start to build as it is shipped over to Iceland for the initial stage of processing.  In Iceland they have cheap hydroelectricity so it is sent there to take advantage of that. It may then go to Germany to be pressed into sheets. Then to the canning company where ever that may be. Finally being sent to the end manufacturer.  All this leads to a high production cost from virgin material to product which therefore means aluminium has a high value. This is reflected by its high recycling rate with 75% of all aluminium ever produced  remaining in productive use. 

All materials have a hidden rucksack of waste, plastic included.  Many are familiar with the sight of marine creatures covered in an oil spill slick. This is an extreme example of the impact of plastic but a very real one.  

With the recent awareness there has been much discussion around replacing plastic in packaging.  However we must exercise caution in considering which materials we use. For instance the ‘Hidden Rucksack’ of paper is three times that of plastic.  So, while it is better for our oceans, it may not be better for our forests.  We need both (each provide 50% the oxygen in the air we breathe) and so paper may not be a viable replacement.  Bamboo could possibly be a good option as it has a high regrowth rate and therefore can be sourced sustainably.  I would love to report that there was a simple solution to the plastic crisis.  However, the reality is that we are going to have to look at each product, the materials in it and how it can be redesigned.  By doing this hopefully we can find solutions that use sustainable materials or businesses that operate a circular closed loop recycling system.

In my opinion, reducing all packaging and getting rid of all unnecessary packaging is the best solution.  In the instances where packaging is needed, we need to look for reusable and sustainable materials when all things are considered, including the hidden rucksack.


We Need Packaging to Keep Food Fresh and For Convenience, Don’t We….? 

Apart from the chemicals leaching into food (which clearly counter balances the ‘freshness’ argument), there are plenty of other instances where this can be debunked.  For example, over 70% of our UK apples travel from abroad, many from New Zealand.  They don’t travel in plastic and seem to survive.   Many things have their own ‘packaging’ which works perfectly well and yet is still double wrapped by retailers.

Yes, in some instances packed produce does last longer but in many instances packaging serves more as a convenience for the retailers than the consumer, giving them a means to up-sell or to help with their own stock taking system.

Once upon a time all our fruit and veg was loose and we survived.  The difference is that we were growing local and eating seasonal.  Globalisation has changed this for now but we also have the power as consumers to demand further change.  


What Do You Want?

Brands and retailers are afraid of change as they think people might stop buying their products.  The current packaging survey indicates that we like food packaged for convenience and speed as we no longer have time to put things in a bag to take it to the till.  Are we really so lazy that we can’t add a couple of seconds onto our shop to put loose items in a reusable container?!  Do we really want all this double layered wrapping that lasts forever and pollutes our environment?  If this doesn’t sound right to you then please join me in having your say.  Write to your favourite brands and put pressure on them to change. How about sending back their packaging to them so that they have to dispose of it.  And by doing so ask them what they are doing to resolve the problem long term.

If you are interested in learning more about the recent government consultation here is a link to the report:

Sadly, despite the report the Government failed to implement the plastic tax that they mooted.  There is therefore a lot more to be done.

Thank you for caring about our planet xoxo

Create waves

There are loads of tips, advice and inspiring stories from those pioneering positive change for the environment just over on my podcast.  I am sure the stories of these every day heroes will inspire you.