Consistency and co-operation key to boost national recycling rates, surveys reveal

With today marking the launch of Recycle Week 2016 (12-18 September), two new public surveys have highlighted the need for greater standardisation and co-operation between retailers and policymakers to improve the UK's recycling performance.

The surveys, from outsourcing company Serco and recycling firm Suez, both revealed the public’s requirement for more standardised packaging  materials and recycling information as ways to increase household recycling rates, which appear to have stalled over the past year.

The Serco survey of more than 12,000 people, which was conducted by the firm’s Environmental Business in partnership with its long-term research partner Future Thinking, found that three in 10 don’t recycle as much as they could, with 38% citing confusing information from both packaging and local authorities as a primary reason for this.

Serco’s business development director for environmental services Robin Davies said: “Councils and service providers put a lot of effort into communicating guidelines to local residents, but their job would be made easier if we all worked together to simplify and standardise recycling information.

“Clearer and consistent information would help people understand what items to put in the right bins and recycle more, leaving local authorities to set their waste collection policies to suit local needs, and building greater confidence among the public that items that can be recycled are being recycled.”

Effective engagement

Meanwhile, Suez reported that 50% of the 2,049 people surveyed in its YouGov poll would support standardised packaging made from easily-recyclable materials, while 72% of respondents claimed that providing more on-pack recycling information would be an effective way of  reducing retail packaging waste.

Suez chief executive David Palmer-Jones is calling for closer collaboration between industry and policy-makers and more effective behaviour change programmes to engage with and inform the public about recycling.

“Perhaps it’s time to engage the public in more active ways, so that they become more individually invested in recycling performance rather than simply being told to recycle by industry and policy-makers because it’s the ‘right thing to do’,” Palmer-Jones said.

“As an industry, working in partnership with manufacturers, retailers and local authorities, it is clear that we can all do more to inform the public about the materials in the products and packaging they consume, how they can be recycled and, importantly, what happens to them after are they are put into the bin.”

The need for a standardisation of packaging materials and recycling processes was recently bought to light in England after a BBC Freedom of Information (FOI) request revealed the amount of rejected recyclable waste in the country had increased by 85% since 2011/12. Recyclable material contamination was cited as a core reason for this, with 95% of that rejected waste being sent to landfill. As a result, representatives from the Government and industry called for less-confusing recycling methods and the development of a long-term regulatory framework for the waste management industry.

The recycling rate in England began to flat-line in 2012/13 and fell by 0.7% to 44.3% for the 12 months to June 2015, according to the latest Defra figures. Wales’ household recycling rate, meanwhile, stands at 56.2%, making it the leader among the home nations.

Unusual Suspects

Both the Suez and the Serco Environmental Business surveys highlighted the lack of effective recycling communication to younger people. Serco revealed that those aged 16-34 are least likely to say that they recycle all they can (57%) and more likely to be confused about what can be recycled; while Suez revealed that just 15% of 18 to 24-year-olds recycle all they can, compared with 53% for those aged 55 and over.

For the 13th national Recycle, WRAP’s  consumer campaign, Recycle Now, is attempting to capture this engagement with younger people by adopting the theme of ‘The Unusual Suspects’ to target the less obvious recyclable items found throughout our homes, such as aerosols and plastic cleaning bottles.

Central to the week’s activities is ‘The Unusual Suspects’ film – Recycle Now’s take on the film The Usual Suspects. A trailer has been running on the Recycle Now website and Facebook to build anticipation for the week and has already attracted almost 160,000 views.

Alex Baldwin

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