Reduction, recycling and the Lewes District

The bigger picture

In 2020 newspaper headlines claimed excavations at Pompeii as showing that the Romans “invented recycling”. While recycling and reuse of materials in fact goes back to the earliest humans, the Pompeii findings do offer a vivid demonstration of the well-organised approach taken to their waste by a particular society: sorting, reclaiming, reusing and treating it as a valuable commodity. This approach still prevails in many modern cultures: we send our own rubbish to China where it is sorted for valuable materials, and in countries such as India and  Egypt many people earn a living from sorting through cities’ refuse and selling the reclaimed plastic, metal, paper and fabrics.

But it is only since the Industrial Revolution that some people have had the ability to use our Earth’s raw materials to create products on a scale that would have been unimaginable in the past. By taking resources from all over the world to make things which are thrown away when no longer needed, we have created a linear economy which cannot be sustained. This throw-away culture generates waste which ends up in landfill (and can create methane, which if allowed to escape into the atmosphere becomes a greenhouse gas) or is incinerated, raising concerns about air pollution.

Waste management, too, is a massive industry that demands huge quantities of energy, transport, land – and can also be a huge polluter.

We need to change the way we do things so that we can protect the planet that is our home, and allow people all over the world to have their fair share of resources.

How can we change this?

We need to build a society that does not promote over-consumption, and supports a circular economy, which keeps resources in use for as long as possible.

Unlike the traditional linear economic model based on a ‘take-make-consume-throw away’ pattern, a circular economy is based on sharing, leasing, reuse, repair, refurbishment and recycling, in an (almost) closed loop, where products and the materials they contain are highly valued, waste and pollution are designed out and natural systems are regenerated.

The four Rs

To exist sustainably, we all need to live well within the limits of our world’s natural resources – in terms of the energy, water, land and materials we use. Right now, it’s estimated we’d need three Earths to meet our need for resources if everyone in the world lived how the average Briton does. If the world’s population all lived like the average American or Australian, we’d need five or more planets.

To tackle these issues, we need to follow the four Rs:

  • Reducing what we use and consume in the first place
  • Reusing (and repairing) items wherever we can
  • Refusing what we don’t need – including things that aren’t sustainable such as excessive packaging and single-use plastic
  • Recycling materials so they can be used again.

We give some examples below, and more in the section on local action.

Reducing single-use items

Avoiding single-use items such as takeway cups, plastic cutlery, bags and bottles can – if we collectively do it – have a huge impact on how much waste we generate. It’s estimated that 3 billion takeaway cups alone go to landfill every year in the UK. Reusable cups, bags and lunch boxes are widely available and some shops will give discounts if you use them. 

Saying ‘No’ to single-use plastic, avoiding shops that overpackage (and telling them so) and even young children asking McDonalds not to include plastic toys with their Happy Meals can have a major impact on big business practices. However, vigilance is required to see what is real change and what may be green-washing.

There’s plenty of scope for reusing even recyclable items: there are thousands of websites with repurposing and upcycling ideas. At the simplest level, glass jars can be given away to local jam-makers, and plastic plant pots to gardeners, via local social media. Shirts that are on their last legs can be repurposed as dusters.

More generally, just asking ourselves the question “Do I really need this?” before we buy can help us think about how and why we consume. When we do need to buy something, choosing to buy from shops and manufacturers  that are focused on being genuinely sustainable can help shift money away from the worst polluters.

Repairing whenever we can

Repair cafes are springing up throughout the UK; and in summer 2021 a new Right to Repair law is being introduced in the UK, legally obliging manufacturers to make spare parts for products available to consumers. It’s hoped this will extend the life of electrical goods by up to 10 years.

Reducing food waste

Around a third of all food is wasted, a staggering 1.3 billion tonnes. An area the size of China is needed to produce the food that is wasted around the world every year, and yet around 815 million people worldwide go hungry. Food production and consumption are responsible for around 30% of global carbon emissions. By using land for agriculture, they also contribute to between 60-80% biodiversity loss through the destruction of natural habitats.

Reducing textile waste

The global fashion industry produced around 2.1 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, equating to 4% of the global total. Cotton production alone accounts for around 20% of the world’s insecticides and 10% of all pesticide use, heavily impacting on biodiversity. And an estimated 17-20% of industrial water pollution comes from textile dyeing.

Priory School Clothes Swap with Dolly Clothing

Lewes Climte Hub won funding for a Fast Fashion project in conjunction with Dolly Clothing and Priory School. This culminated in a hugely successful Clothes Swap in July 2022, hosted by Priory School Eco Club.

By swapping instead of shopping, students saved:

  • Approx 1225kg of Co2 emissions️
  • At least 95kg of fertilizers and pesticides
  • 1.1 million litres of water

We’re thrilled to have enough funding to continue work with Priory and Dolly for three further terms from September 2022. Watch this space!

Lewes area groups and activities

Lewes Repair Café 

Repair Café is open one Saturday a month and has repairers on hand to mend electrical, textile and general household items – and also bicycles. Click on the link for more details. at the Landport Community Hub on Landport Road (formerly the Boys Club). Last repairs are booked in at 4.30 pm. If you can carry it in, we will have a look at it and fix it if we can.

You can also join us for tea, coffee and tasty treats. Our café is open for people waiting for their item to be looked at, but more than that we are a community event and we welcome everyone who wants to come along and see what we do. You’ll have the chance to chat with friends and meet new ones, or to sit and read magazines, and our baking will have you coming back for more!’

Lewes Library of Things

Lewes Library of Things is open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday morning and has over 120 items to borrow for free (donations welcome) from power washers to camping equipment.

Plastic Free Lewes

Plastic Free Lewes, a Transition Town Lewes initiative, aims to take action on plastic pollution by inspiring individuals, businesses, schools and organisations across Lewes to reduce consumption of unnecessary plastic – especially single-use plastic. Plastic Free Lewes

Local groups and contacts

Lewes Repair Cafe  

Lewes Library of Things  

Plastic Free Lewes 

Now! Charity for recycling furniture and electricals

Dolly Clothing Baby clothing library, Brighton

Brighton and Hove Wood Recycling Project (currently operating from Ringmer)

Local textile and craft-based repairers in the Lewes area, The Makers Directory

County Council advice on furniture reuse and recycling

What can I do to help?

  • Reduce the number of things you buy
  • Refuse single-use items if you can – takeway cups, plastic cutlery, bags and bottles
  • Repair – at home (there’s lots of helpful information online), via the Repair Café (see above) or using a local tradesperson
  • Mend, refresh and repurpose garments, using local sewing experts, for example Dolly Clothing  in Cliffe.
  • Repurpose things rather than throwing them away
  • Use reclaimed materials
  • Make second-hand your first choice
  • Freegle,  Freecycle  and our local Now! Charity for recycling furniture and electricals
  • Give to and buy from charity shops – especially for clothes
  • Our antique markets and bric-a-brac stalls
  • Ebay

Look at these websites for more recycling/ waste reduction ideas:

  • Recycle Now: lots of information including a “what to do with” search button giving suggestions for different items.
  • Recycle Week in September 
  • The WRAP Love Food Hate Waste website has lots of strategies to help you to reduce your food waste
  • WRAP’s Love Your Clothes campaign  focuses on making careful buying choices, care and repair, refashioning and upcycling and what to do with unwanted clothes

If you need to dispose of waste, do so responsibly – e.g. don’t put chemicals or paint down the drain where it can harm the water supply. Contact the local Council for advice. If you do need to use paid-for waste collection (for example for a house move, after a bereavement, during building work or for your business), ask about their recycling policy and always ensure that they have a Waste Carriers Licence and give you a Waste Transfer Note – this protects you and the local community from fly tipping.

The Council and recycling

In 2019/20, Lewes District sent 39.6% of its household waste for reuse, recycling or composting, ranking us 205 out of 317 local authorities in the country. So there’s still plenty to be done to improve recycling rates.

Kerb-side recycling collection 

And this website Your Ultimate Guide to Recycling  gives help too. 

Food waste ‘A third of the rubbish in an average household bin is food waste. Joining our food waste recycling scheme can reduce your impact on the environment, and help you to save money on your food bill by cutting down on waste. You can even recycle cooked food scraps, meat, and dairy….

After we collect your food waste we take it to the Woodlands In-Vessel Composting Facility in Whitesmith to be recycled into soil conditioner and fertiliser which is then used by farmers and gardeners in the district.’

Garden waste This is a paid-for service

Local recycling points 

Household waste recycling sites Despite their common name ‘the tip’, these sites feed into several recycling systems, including unwanted household items. Do check what items can be taken there for free – for example, you’ll have to pay to deposit hard-core.

The Council and recycling

Kerb-side recycling collection

Ultimate Guide to Recycling

Food waste 

Garden waste

Local recycling points 

Household waste recycling sites 


Useful resources



Recycle Now 

WRAP Love Food Hate Waste

WRAP’s Love Your Clothes campaign 


Further information