Pupils make sweet music through pledges

Enlisting the help of pupils to increase recycling rates has paid dividends for one local authority in West Yorkshire, while rewarding their schools in the process

If it works for supermarkets it can work for recycling - at least that's what marketing agency Ainsworth & Parkinson (A&P) thought and then went on to prove when it teamed up with Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council. Four years ago, A&P borrowed some of the logic used by the retail giants in their 'equipment for schools' campaigns to develop the 'recycling rewards for schools' concept.

In Calderdale MBC, the scheme has around 23% of households taking part (18,057 households) and 71 out of 87 primary schools across West Yorkshire. A&P started from the basis that only a small number of people recycle out of a desire to preserve the environment. Something else is needed to 'jump start' the majority into action, which can be translated into long-term recycling habits - not just temporary change.

The next stage was to identify an incentive that could motivate as many people as possible, and A&P found a common factor that it believed united the largest number of people - schools.

So how does the scheme work? Primary school pupils and their parents collect signed pledges to recycle from householders in their area. Neil Maver from A&P explains: "Most pledges are collected from friends and relatives, but they can be from anyone in the participating region as long as only one pledge is made per household.

"On the pledge form the householder is asked to nominate a school. This nominated school will benefit directly from each signed pledge it receives - but only if householders keep their promise to recycle."

Each month, recycling tonnages from the participating region are weighed and allocated a value in points. This pot of points is distributed back among the schools in direct proportion to the number of pledges they have received.

To help participating schools run the pledge scheme, they each receive a pack of materials including campaign advice guide, literature for parents and pupil pledge books. Also included is a rewards catalogue from which schools can choose computer or musical equipment to exchange points for.

Previous work carried out by A&P suggested that pledges made to secondary schools were only half of those made to primary schools - which is why the scheme has only been rolled out to lower schools in Calderdale.

On target
Since the campaign started a year ago, recycling rates have risen from 17.5% in 2004-5 to just over 20% in 2005-6 - exceeding the council's 18% statutory recycling target. This is particularly impressive as Calderdale only began kerbside recycling in December 2004.

There are other benefits to the scheme. Calderdale spent £106K to launch it, which includes a school equipment budget of £20K. But Maver points out that between one-fifth and one-third of the campaign costs are ploughed back into local schools. In year two, if Calderdale decides to extend it, the scheme will cost the authority just £50K.

Maver adds: "£50K works out at 62p per household or 97.5p per household over the two years. This compares well with the industry norm which can range anywhere between 50p and £3.00-plus."

The scheme is educational as it fits in with the national curriculum at all key stages in citizenship and other subject areas. Maver says: "This campaign has a depth of reach that advertising and leafleting would never achieve."

Malcolm Akroyd, waste manager at Calderdale MBC, adds that the high participation levels are another indication that the scheme is working. "It empowers the children to go to their parents, relatives and neighbours to say 'recycling is important for my future why aren't you recycling?' and as an aside 'you can get equipment for schools'."

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