Do recycling rewards let us off the hook?
Rewarding people for recycling. It does sound good on one level, doesn't it? It encourages us, particularly if we're lazy or not that inclined to be green, to think about our disposal options once we have used and consumed.
So the news that Nectar is now entering the recycling incentives market isn't really that surprising. Its reach is massive – it's the UK's largest loyalty programme; over 18 million of us use it, thanks to its tie-in with Sainsbury's and several other leading retailers.
If its pilot scheme with Birmingham City Council proves successful – and I'm sure it will – it will almost certainly be rolled out and replicated across the country. Everybody is familiar with Nectar points, far more so than the US-based Recyclebank scheme, which is still in its infancy here in the UK.
But, lets fast forward – maybe ten years from now. What, ultimately, happens when we stop ‘paying folk' for recycling? This question has been posed by CIWM's chief executive Steve Lee, who quite rightly is wondering how such incentive schemes affect behavioural change on a deeper level – mainly waste prevention.
If we are telling people it's good to recycle, that's one thing. If we are paying them to recycle, then are we effectively encouraging them to consume more because there's an incentive attached? Not everything we consume can be recycled, easily or effectively, and therein lies the rub.
There is a slight danger that dangling too much carrot might quietly sweep the wider debates around the waste hierarchy under the carpet. These are also the more difficult discussions we need to have. It's always easier to treat the symptoms rather than tackle the root of the problem – our entrenched patterns of over-consumption.
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