Financial incentives to encourage recycling within the community

Ed Perry, a consultant with Golder Associates, specialising in waste management with specific emphasis on providing creative solutions for local government, looks at the successes and failures of three schemes designed to increase household recycling of waste.

The implementation of three schemes using performance rewards, ‘recycling-wins-prizes’, and individual rewards, highlights a range of issues relating to encouraging households to take responsibility for their waste. It is also possible to highlight the benefits of such schemes and their limitations.

The lack of participation in kerbside schemes and corresponding potential for increased recycling rates is often due to barriers that are perceived to exist by the householder. If kerbside schemes and waste reduction programmes are to have the greatest effect these barriers will need to be addressed, which will often require changes to people’s perceptions and lifestyle.

Recycling Wins Prizes

Cory Environmental carried out this scheme in 2001 in partnership with Southend Borough Council and the Southend Observer.

Prize draw vouchers were printed in the Civic News, the local authority publication, and was also announced in the Southend-on-Sea Observer, delivered free to all residents. Householders completed the voucher with their details and then fixed this to the inside of their recycling bag. The vouchers were then collected together at the local materials recycling facility and one drawn at random on a monthly basis.

The monthly prize was a £50 Tesco voucher with other special one off prizes sought from other sponsors. The first winner received a £100 voucher from Tesco and a gold sovereign from Cory Environmental.

The success of the scheme was difficult to establish as during the period in which the scheme was operating, the collection of recyclables was changed from a fortnightly collection service to a weekly service. The change to the collection service is known to have increased both the participation in the kerbside collection and the tonnage of the recyclables collected.

It is known that the number of vouchers separated was low throughout the duration of the scheme. A higher prize of £400 worth of holiday vouchers was provided by Cory Environmental for one month to establish whether this was more effective, however this appeared to have no significant effect.

It is possible that large sections of the community did not read the Observer or the Civic News and were therefore unaware of the scheme. The vouchers from the Civic News also had to be retained for later months and it is possible this did not occur. However, there was no noticeable increase in entrants following a period of more intensive awareness raising.

Individual rewards

Two trials were undertaken by a partnership of the Greater London Assembly, ECT Recycling Ltd., the London Borough of Brent and the London Borough of Lambethl.

Both of the trials were designed to reward the householders with £10 if they participated in the local recycling scheme for at least half the time over the duration of the trial. In Brent this consisted of putting a recycling box out for the weekly kerbside recycling collection round. In Lambeth the trial targeted high density estates and participation was through depositing material in the local glass, paper and can banks.

Participation in Brent was measured by scanning barcodes on the recycling boxes while in Lambeth residents of the Tulse Hill Estate were given a booklet of slips that they posted in a special box when they used the recycling banks and these were then scanned.

Participation and set out rates were measured prior to the trial in Brent. The results of this trial showed that participation rose by approximately 6% and set out rates for the recycling boxes by 50%. Thus it encouraged the people that took part sporadically to be more consistent in their use of the kerbside collection. The trial did help to increase participation but 40% of householders never participated. The increase in tonnage was 33.93% reinforcing the idea that the participants were putting more recyclables out during the trial, as opposed to the participants putting out less material but on a more regular basis.

The tonnage collected in Lambeth increased by 27%, however 83% of the residents did not take part, although some people may have put materials in the bring banks without depositing their slips in the box. This high figure of non-participation is despite the fact that the slips could have been put in the box without actually recycling anything.

These results would appear to show that the people who already participate in a kerbside scheme are easier to incentivise than those that do not participate in any way. This is likely to be due to the fact that as they already find the motivation to participate some of the time, it does not require a great deal more effort for their involvement to increase.

The economics of kerbside collection schemes are such that it is more cost effective to collect a large amount of recyclables from a small number of households rather than have the same amount of material spread across a number of households. The effect of the scheme in Lambeth would therefore appear to be more cost effective as it has increased the quantity of recyclables collected by 34% while only having a 6% increase in participants.

Figure 1. Set out rates over the trial for householders in Brent including non-participants

Performance Rewards

The scheme organised by Leicester City Council aims to reward the community rather than the individual household for the quantity of recyclables that are collected. The pilot will run for six months with each school in the pilot area adopting the bottle bank within the area for one month. The month with the most material collected from the bottle bank will determine which school receives the main reward.

The main reward will be calculated by comparing the recycling rate for the pilot area over the six months of the scheme with the same six months for the previous year. This should ensure that the results are not affected by seasonality but it will be affected by any annual increase in the quantity of waste produced. It has been assumed that the amount of recycling carried out should increase in line with the amount of waste produced, the percentage therefore remaining constant. A financial value will be attributed to each percentage increase and will determine the main reward paid to the winning school.

This has been designed to provide an element of competition between the schools, which it is hoped will increase the effort from the schools to raise awareness in the local community regarding recycling.

The main reward will be paid to one school. However, each school will receive the net profits from the sale of glass collected from the bottle bank during their month of adoption to ensure a positive attitude is maintained to the scheme by all of the schools.

This scheme will establish whether the concern of the local community regarding funding of local schools in addition to the power of children to affect the behaviour of their parents is sufficient to alter the behaviour of householders within the pilot area.


The three schemes all use a financial reward to encourage people to separate recyclables from their other waste so that the material can be collected and recycled. These incentive schemes have been implemented because large numbers of householders do not participate in the collection of recyclables for one reason or another.

A number of factors have been cited as a barrier to householders taking part in the collection of recyclables e.g. the lack of storage space for the materials until they are collected. These barriers are perceived rather than physical as they can be overcome with the expenditure of sufficient effort. It is therefore down to the individual to decide whether the amount of effort required to separate the recyclables for collection is worth the benefit they perceive to occur either to themselves or the community. The use of an incentive will contribute to the value of the perceived benefit. This can be summarised by the following:

[Perceived Benefit + Perceived Value of Incentive] – Perceived Effort = Effort Expended

The difficulty arises because the values of the three variables are different for each person. The use of incentives is trying to ensure the Effort Expended is a positive so that the separation of recyclables is carried out. The value of the incentive to each individual will not be standard either. It is therefore only through undertaking a range of schemes that it can be seen how effective individual incentives are.

The scheme in Brent showed that for 40% of the households the incentive was not sufficient for them to expend the necessary effort while in Lambeth the figure was 83% of the households. The figure is more than double for Lambeth which is probably due to the extra effort required to take recyclables to the bring banks. There may in addition be differences in the perceived value of the incentive or other barriers that may have increased the amount of perceived effort required.

In Southend-on-Sea the amount of householders participating in the kerbside collection increased when the collection became weekly as it was perceived to be less effort to store the waste for one week rather than two. It is possible that the effort required to take part in the incentive scheme i.e. filling out vouchers etc., to some extent, reduced the value of the incentive that was provided. The incentive was provided in the form of a prize, which would also have decreased the value of the incentive for some people.

The schools in Leicester will be expending the additional effort rather than the householder so this should not detract from the value of the incentive. It is unknown whether providing the incentive to a school will be of sufficient value to individual householders to alter the amount of effort they are willing to expend to recycle.

The schemes that have been described above have run for a limited period of time and the research has not included looking at whether any change of behaviour persists after the withdrawal of the incentive. It would be expected that once a behaviour has been fixed over a period of time it is then more of an effort to stop than to carry on. The introduction of incentives would be expected to have the effect of starting some people to recycle who will continue even after the scheme stops. They may therefore be most effectively used on an intermittent basis.


Incentives can be used to encourage more people to take part in recycling schemes. The number of people that are encouraged to take part will vary depending on a variety of factors including: how the scheme is set up, the incentives provided and the socio-economic background of the households taking part.

There would appear to be a hierarchy in encouraging the maximum number of people to take part in a recycling scheme. Firstly the perceived barriers and therefore the amount of effort thought to be required by the householder to overcome these should be reduced to a minimum. Incentives can then be introduced. However, the value will have to be investigated so that it is relevant to the people targeted and it should require as little effort as possible to take part.

Once the maximum number of people are taking part after the introduction of incentives the final step is some form of penalty such as variable charging.

One of the difficulties of providing an incentive is the cost associated with implementing this to the local authority, although some schemes such as that in Southend-on-Sea can be set up so that there is no cost to the local authority. The cost benefit of any incentive scheme should be carefully established so that the maximum incentive can be provided without affecting the cost benefit of the collection of recyclables. It is therefore interesting to note that the scheme in Brent appears to improve the cost benefit of the scheme by improving the capture rate. More research will need to be carried out to establish if this is a common result for incentive schemes.

Golder Associates is helping to put programmes into place that encourage the community to embrace recycling as a way forward.
I would like to acknowledge and thank the following people for providing details of the three schemes described:
Emma Ricketts, Partnership Recycling Officer, Cory Environmental;
Cathie Loughead, Team Leader, Waste Management, Leicester City Council;
Peter Daw, Strategy Officer (Waste), Greater London Authority.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie