Community engagement key to raising recycling rates

In an effort to boost uninspiring recycling rates, the London borough of Hackney has made it compulsory for residents - and brought on board multicultural champions to improve community engagement.

Talking to edie at the London Multicultural Environment Fair (see related story) on Tuesday, Muslim community worker Anwar Lohiya said: “Asians have the lowest recycling rates in London and there are several reasons for this.

“Language is often a big problem – information leaflets are usually in English and people don’t want to call the council to ask for them in their own language because it can be difficult to communicate on the phone.”

Southern Asians come from an oral culture, where things are passed on by word of mouth, and mail drops are often simply seen as junk mail.

“They want people to come and speak with them, face to face,” said Mr Lohiya.

Council officers could also have difficulties making a connection, said Mr Lohiya, so it was often useful to have somebody from within the Muslim community approach residents to explain the issues.

Many of Hackney’s Muslims live in large families in high-rise flats, he said, which presents its own logistical problems.

Green box schemes are often inappropriate as there are problems with storage space and even health and safety issues, as well as the difficulties with collecting the boxes.

Early setbacks when recycling was first introduced also discouraged people from getting involved, said the community worker, but things are now improving and changes are being made.

Ola Bankole, assistant recycling officer at Hackney, said the council was trying to tailor its services to meet the needs of the borough’s culturally diverse population.

“There are people from every corner of the globe represented in this city and it’s very important that we do something to reach out to all these groups,” he said.

“We plan to go through every group in the community of Hackney, but we have to prioritise.

“Parts of Asia have the highest rates of reuse in the world, for example, but the Asian community does not have a high recycling rate here.”

In response to this, he said, the council had set up a reuse shop selling items that might otherwise have gone to waste.

Inroads have already been made in promoting recycling to the Jewish, Vietnamese and Kurdish/Turkish residents of the borough.

Orhan Dil, who works for Kurdish community group Day Mer and the council, outlined how he had tried to improve recycling in the Turkish-speaking community.

“To start with it was very difficult,” he said.

“The term ‘recycling’ did not even exist in Turkish when most people came here in the mid-90s.”

Knowing the community is vital and it is not useful to go in with UK preconceptions or ideas of political correctness.

Women’s groups, for example, are one of Mr Dil’s main targets as, in Kurdish families, women are responsible for the cooking and cleaning and it follows that they would be expected to do most recycling.

He also speaks to Kurdish businesses which are focal points for the community and advertises in Turkish-language newspapers.

“People are using these premises for their daily needs and get most of their information from the papers,” he said.

Day Mer also sets up stalls at community events and regular culturally-focused dance and drama sessions.

Football is also a big part of life for many in the Kurdish and Turkish community, so the group goes to matches to promote the message and talk to fans about recycling.

Community worker Yael White, said work was also taking place to engage the East End’s Jewish community.

“It’s a very cohesive, well established community,” she said.

“We run publicity campaigns and also target homes and schools.”

Adverts are taken out in the local Jewish press, said Ms White, as it is more widely read than the mainstream media.

And while most of Hackney’s Jews do speak English, language also has an important role to play in winning the hearts of the community.

“We produce leaflets and though often they don’t need them to be in Yiddish it shows we’ve made the effort and we’ve found the more you can show you know the community, the better received you are,” said Ms White.

“Campaigns need to be culturally sensitive in terms of the language and imagery they use. The better you are seen to know the target of the campaign the better you are perceived.”

Good old-fashioned door knocking can also be very productive.

“It’s not unusual for families to have eight or ten children, so if you only talk to the mother of the household you’re reaching ten or 12 people,” she said.

While winning over the residents will be key to the success of any municipal recycling scheme, the council has also recognised that it needs to adapt to meet their needs.

It has begun putting on special collections, for example, to coincide with the cultural festivals outside the Christian calendar and the extra waste the celebrations are likely to produce.

Sam Bond

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