Could rewards schemes reinvigorate Britain’s static recycling rates?

Long-term investment in rewards-based behaviour change schemes is the only way to reinvigorate plateauing recycling rates in a post-Brexit Britain, with 'quick-win' solutions failing to deliver for local authorities across the country.

That’s according to new analysis from recycling reward scheme Greenredeem, which has reviewed individual recycling behaviours associated with more than two million kerbside collections over two years.

The research found that members of Greenredeem recycle twice as much and twice as often as non-members of the scheme, which incentivises consumers to reduce waste by providing personalised shopping discounts and special offers every time they recycle.

Beyond borders

Members of this incentivising scheme recycle an average of 19.35kg every time they put their recycling out for kerbside collection – 2.5 times per month. Non-members, on the other hand, recycle an average of 9.01kg, 1.29 times per month.

Greenredeem believes a nationwide shift to recycling reward schemes could therefore hold the key to ramping up Britain’s recycling rates, which have seemingly flat-lined at around 45% of household waste – a trend that would make achieving the EU target of 50% by 2020 difficult to achieve. The Government is yet to confirm whether that 50% target will remain once the UK leaves the EU.

“Although it is unclear whether the 50% recycling rate target will be enforced post-Brexit, the country’s recycling rate has ground to a halt and there is still much to do from an environmental and ethical point of view that policymakers must consider,” said Greenredeem’s director of marketing and communications Rob Crumbie.

“When it comes to climate change, there are no borders or barriers to the impact it has on the environment. The UK must continue to play its part, as a member of the global community, in increasing capture rates of valuable resources through recycling, reducing the amount we consume and reusing where possible.”

No quick-wins

Prime examples of the behaviour change benefits of recycling rewards schemes can be found in the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead (RBWM) and Halton Borough Council, which have achieved significant growth in recycling rates over the past six years.

Before adopting a recycling incentive initiative in 2009, Halton’s household waste recycling rate of 30% was considerably lower than the national average of 36.7%. After six years of using a rewards-based waste management scheme, Halton’s recycling rate had risen to 47% – above the UK average of 45%. The RBWM has a similar success story, with a 12% increase in recycling – from 34% to 46% – over the same six-year period.

Greenredeem claims that rewards schemes that offer ‘quick-win’ incentives have struggled to achieve similar results, while some local authorities that take on the pressure of developing their own incentive schemes have struggled to achieve the recycling growth rates they were aiming for. A strong communication channel that underpins all activity is crucial to the success of any behaviour change scheme, Greenredeem says.

Of the 46 local authorities that applied and received grants from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) for reward-based recycling schemes, only 27 have actually implemented an initiative so far. With reports detailing mixed results for the schemes, 19 local authorities have chosen to sit on their grants – totalling £5.1m in funding – rather than investing in incentive schemes that are not yet proven.

Neat Streets

The Greenredeem research comes on the same day that behaviour change charity Hubbub has launched a new website, sponsored by INCPEN, which showcases best practice anti-litter campaigns from around the world and is designed to aid councils and businesses looking for innovative solutions to tackle litter.

The website – – includes a user rating system that allows people to vote and rate projects they like and proved to work. Successful campaigns featured on the site include ‘Don’t Mess With Texas’ which reduced littering by 34 over four years; and the ‘voting ashtray’, tested in London’s Villiers Street, which reduced cigarette litter by 18%.

Hubbub founder Trewin Restorick said: “Why reinvent the wheel when there is much to be learnt from state of the art campaigns already tried and tested? It is Hubbub’s ethos to give away ideas that have worked and share learnings; we want to provide a platform for others to do the same.”

Luke Nicholls

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