Putting your house in order at the kerbside

Householders are often left bewildered by kerbside schemes. Jason Mohr pinpoints the inefficiencies of domestic recycling and suggests ways to improve it

Recent research has highlighted that mass confusion is causing millions of British householders to regularly breach kerbside recycling guidelines. With almost two-thirds admitting to making mistakes when recycling their packaging, a third unclear about what packaging they can recycle, and a large number unsure about what can and can’t be collected, it seems consumers are not getting the education and services they require to make it a success.

In order to effectively encourage people to change, the solution needs to be logical, accessible and hassle-free. It’s easy to see why consumers aren’t engaging with recycling messages and practices. As it stands, local authority recycling schemes are complicated – they have too many different boxes, too many rules and place too much reliance on the consumer. Put simply, they are turning householders off.

This needs to change, and fast. But it can only be achieved through greater consistency and education. The first step has to be a standardisation of recycling across the country, including the use of uniform colours on collection boxes to depict certain types of waste, as well as generic approaches to the collection process.

This would reduce confusion and create a level platform for a national education programme. Standardisation would also allow for accurate benchmarking of recycling levels across the country.

The recycling process needs to be made more consumer friendly. For example, kerbside boxes are often too small to hold all the waste. This creates unnecessary mess for householders, which deters them from recycling. To overcome this problem, local authorities should consider extending the use of wheelie bins, so households could have one bin for co-mingled recyclables, one for food waste, and one for residual waste.

Inconsistency around collections is also driving apathy. In many areas across the UK, collections are unreliable and householders are regularly being forced to live with their waste for longer than necessary. This creates a headache for residents, particularly those who struggle with storage space. One solution would be a system of co-mingling in urban areas.

Facilitated by local authorities, residents could be provided with larger, communal wheelie bins, rather than each property having their own. As well as creating an inclusive mentality between residents, such a scheme would also drive neighbourhood participation, with everyone working together for the common good.

Better organisation of collection routes, coupled with co-mingling, would also reduce the large carbon footprint that running separate collections for household waste and recyclables brings. The current multi-collection service, as well as the use of hard-to-recycle plastic collection bags used by some local authorities, sends a contradictory message to people and surely defeats the purpose.

When it comes to educating householders, recycling needs to be instilled in the public as a normal way of life, as it is in other European countries. We need to harness the positive pester power of children at a young age, using them to educate and push their parents to recycle.

Let’s move away from leaflets that ultimately end up in the bin, and take simple steps such as fixing laminates to the lids of collection bins – constant reminders at the point of recycling. Finally, publicising recycling results at a district level would be a great way to create healthy competition between areas and make recycling something to be proud of.

While it’s important to educate the consumer, if recycling facilities are not up to scratch, then it’s a wasted effort. At present, recycling facilities are sending, on average, 9% of collected recyclables to landfill. This is unacceptable, and local authorities need to improve the auditing process that measures the efficiencies of the recycling facilities they use.

Service level agreements need to be reviewed and rebate clauses should be added, triggered if a certain percentage of waste sent to landfill exceeds a specified maximum. Again, if the process was standardised nationally, then key performance indicators could be agreed by all local authorities to measure performance against.

It’s not just packaging waste that consumers are confused about. One area they know very little about is WEEE, a problem confounded by local authorities offering little in the way of kerbside collections for waste electrical items. Not everyone can take such waste to their local tip, so many people are continuing to put it in their wheelie bins.

Councils should look to outsource this side of domestic waste collection to companies such as ourselves. We take the hassle factor away, as we turn up when we say we do, collect items from anywhere on the premises and guarantee that waste is responsibly disposed of.

Local authorities need to re-evaluate the way that collection schemes work, both locally and nationally. Consistency is the key – whether we are talking about the same rules and benchmarks deployed across the country, the messages that educate, the recycling rules or the service. Oh, and if councils could ensure that bin men put the lid back on the bins, that would be a bonus.

Jason Mohr is founder and MD of anyjunk.co.uk

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