Householders ‘misunderstand’ what happens to waste, study finds

Householders in the UK and France often assume that the recycling process ends when they discard an item, according to a new study commissioned by Coca Cola Enterprises and the University of Exeter.

The drinks giant initially commissioned the study with the University of Exeter to better understand how household dynamics influence recycling behaviours.

The research is entitled ‘Unpacking the household’, led by Dr Stewart Barr, observed 20 families, couples and single-person households in Great Britain and France, in their own homes, for six months.

The survey found that the majority of households do not have an accurate understanding of what happens to waste once it has been collected for recycling. It also highlighted how householders view recycling as a ‘linear’, rather than a ‘circular’ process.

They often assume the recycling process ends when they discard them, the survey found.

According to the research, for those who do think about their recyclables after they leave the home, there can be a degree of scepticism, with some householders questioning existing collection systems and referencing materials being ‘sent to landfill’ or ‘exported abroad’ for sorting or re-processing.

This view is often compounded by negative media stories, with many participants recalling high-profile reports and documentaries around negative recycling processes.

This misconception and scepticism prevents people from understanding the true value of recycling, often leading to apathy, which represents a major threat to the overall success of the collection and recycling process.
Other key findings from the study include:
·The recycling infrastructure in households must be adjusted. Additional physical space is needed to make recycling a more viable activity, but aesthetics are a barrier, with few study participants willing to make room for a recycling bin.
·The majority of households do not have an accurate understanding of what happens to their waste once it has been collected, with many not realising that their recycled items are returned to them as other products or packaging, e.g. shampoo bottles or t-shirts.
·Households are sceptical about what happens to their recycling once collected, with many believing it is all ‘sent to landfill’ or ‘exported abroad.’
·Digital communication and social media could be put to greater use, encouraging people to form new recycling habits.

Elsewhere, the drinks giant announced that it has launched a recycling challenge to co-create solutions to help improve at-home recycling habits, in partnership with open innovation platform, The 11-week challenge will draw on the platform’s 60,000 members from across the globe as part of CCE’s ‘Recycle for the Future’ campaign.

Liz Gyekye

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