Debate rages on as to why waste is such a dirty word

Waste and resource management professionals still have much to do if they are to move waste up the hierarchy and achieve community buy-in, according to industry experts.

Public perception around waste issues is a massive challenge for the sector, which is struggling to create meaningful behaviour change amongst householders and businesses despite good intentions among individuals to recycle more.

Dr Richard Bull, senior research fellow at De Montfort University, has studied waste behaviour among individuals and observed that context, as well as psychology, tend to be key barriers.

“People want to recycle more, but we have a lot of work to do in moving waste up the hierarchy – it’s a real challenge,” he said.

As dialogues around such issues increasingly shift into the digital space and social media, it is throwing up a whole new set of challenges for the industry, he added.

Dr Bull, along with others, believe a step change in communications is needed, particularly among local authorities who have a direct link to the householders.

“Whose problem is waste?” he questioned. “The solution to household waste management must involve those who create it in the first place.”

This view was echoed by Viridor’s external affairs manager Dan Cooke who observed: “Everyone produces and manages or mismanages their own waste – it’s a universal connection.”

Councillor Susan Hall, who works for Harrow Council, argued that there needed to be more engagement among elected members to push home key messaging, especially as they have contact with residents on a daily basis.

“If you engage the senior politicians, you’ll get a strong message back to the community. I visit people who have problems recycling because it’s the way forward,” she said.

Hall added that there was much confusion among householders over what materials can be recycled. “‘We need to simplify waste collections,” she asserted.

The importance of genuine and timely community engagement was reinforced by local resident and recent consultee Pamela Goodman, who cautioned that NIMBYism was “alive and well” but distracting from the main issue.

“NIMBYism is not our biggest problem – they are a vocal minority and we can identify them. It is the silent majority, the kitchen table government, we have to stir them up and mobilise them,” she said.

The industry, she added, needed to find a way of silencing one group and giving a voice to another if it was to manage public perceptions more effectively.

These issues were discussed at a panel session at the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management’s annual conference in London last week.

Maxine Perella

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