Public put off by complex waste rules

Householders often find their local council's instructions on how to manage waste unpalatable and over complicated, according to an Oxford business school.

Researchers at the Saïd Business School claim the ever increasing number of categories, rules, measures and means of accounting for their waste are leaving the general public confused and disheartened.

“People feel their lives are increasingly being controlled by ordinary objects and everyday technologies, and recycling and waste management is one area where passions are aroused,” said the school’s Professor Steve Woolgar.

“We need to understand why this is happening. The research reveals an extraordinary variation in attitudes and practices and shows that local authorities have a long way to go to get households on their side.

“The results are significant because they show the extent to which weighty issues of governance and social control actually centre upon ordinary mundane ‘stuff’.

“This provides a new way of thinking about governance as enacted through everyday objects, which might also unlock some related problems of political philosophy, accountability and responsibility.”

Put more simply, the perceived shift of responsibility for waste management onto householders and away from the councils themselves, coupled with the looming threat of fines or other punishment for those who get it wrong, means recycling can be seen as a negative chore watched over by Big Brother rather than a positive chance to ‘do your bit’.

The researchers suggest a number of possible solutions to encourage public participation including:

  • Reducing the number of categories of waste for householders in favour of a few broad categories such as paper, glass and plastic;

  • Reducing the number of ways in which households are expected to present their waste;

  • Shifting the burden of responsibility for sorting waste back onto local authorities;
  • Establishing simple, national standards for household recycling to encourage households to develop waste management routines;

  • Bringing in measures to encourage the UK recycling industry to handle waste more effectively and reduce the environmental burden of shipping thousands of tonnes of waste overseas.

    The Local Government Association have defended the use of fines as a last resort, however, saying they can be an effective way of encouraging the public to take responsibility for their waste.

    “Councils do issue fines to the minority of people who persistently put out their rubbish out at the wrong time as it can attract vermin and other pests, but this is a last resort,” said Cllr Paul Bettison, chairman of the LGA’s environment board.

    “Councils find that offering advice and education to householders is an effective way of dealing with isolated problems.

    “Throwing household waste into a recycle bin contaminates the whole collection and it has to be buried in landfill. If a resident continually ignores the council’s advice and repeated warnings it has no choice but to issue a fine.”

    Sam Bond

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