Choice and access to recycling facilities: The key to hitting the 2020 target

Source: PSE - Oct/Nov 2015

FullSizeRender matt editMatthew Ball, general manager at Greenredeem, discusses the challenges to increasing recycling rates in the UK.

In July this year the Guardian reported that the UK may oppose new EU recycling targets, with a 70% waste reuse target for 2030. There is already major concern across the industry that the EU target of 50% by 2020 is a stretch and understandably so, as Defra continues to report a slow rise in recycling rates.

As it stands, the UK generates a whopping 177 million tonnes of waste each year. There is clearly much more to be done now if we are to lead the UK into a ‘circular economy’ and hit the 2020 target, let alone thinking 10 years ahead of that.

So, what are the challenges to increasing recycling rates?

Debate is rife around how best to motivate residents who do recycle to do more, as well as motivating those who don’t recycle at all. There are a range of policies available to councils to improve recycling rates in their areas, whether they are structural changes to the way in which recycling is collected, a penalty or fines system or introducing a reward scheme.

There is much to be said about each option, but what struck us recently is how important it’s becoming to ensure that there is standardised material collection across England. For example, food waste is one of the biggest contributors to all residual waste collected each year, yet it is only offered to just over half of households in England. The other half simply don’t have the choice and as a result, recycling rates will grow less quickly if a major contributor to residual waste isn’t collected. Collection of food waste will require investment, but the Welsh Assembly shows what leadership it has taken in this field.

In Wales, food waste is collected by all local authorities at the kerbside. It has been a major contributor to a strategy that has delivered a recycling rate of 58% – over 13 percentage points ahead of England. Greenredeem supports strategies to reduce food waste, but to decrease the amount of residual waste that’s created, a combination of improved recycling facilities and better knowledge is needed.

Without a food waste recycling collection service being provided unilaterally to every household in England, nearly half of all households will have no option but to continue to throw their food waste in their residual collection, if they don’t compost at home. And it’s not just food waste; materials such as glass are still a struggle for some residents to recycle across England as it’s not a service offered by every local authority at the kerbside. By not offering households the opportunity to recycle, we will continue to see an enormous barrier to participation.

Driving green behaviour with personal rewards

There is no question that making recycling easy, simple and truly accessible for the individual is a core factor to increasing recycling rates – and it would be easy for us to stand up and say that incentives are the only solution. Ultimately, it will depend on the individual, so councils will need to consider a blend of tactics to drive change. That said, we do know that rewarding people and building engagement through rewards does get results, but this too needs to be supported by a compelling communications campaign.

A great example of this can be seen in The Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead, where recycling rates have grown three times faster than the national average through the Royal Borough’s partnership with Greenredeem. Different people are motivated by different things, at different times and in more recent years, as our business has evolved, we’ve learnt that rewards aren’t just about the individual, they often run much deeper.

We’ve seen thousands of residents donate at recycling points to help give thousands of pounds to local schools, helping fund eco projects, keeping community centres up and running. Whether it’s for charity, a local school or community, giving people the choice to donate or to recycle has become key to driving behavioural change. 

Receive by giving

Sadly there is no silver bullet, and choosing the right combination of recycling initiative to motivate residents to take green action still remains a challenge for many local authorities. However, allowing consumers to feel instant fulfilment, by giving to a charity or connecting with a longer-term project such as supporting a local primary school or community hall, creates positive reinforcement and a cycle of green behaviour.

If we are ever going to meet the EU targets set for 2020, it’s essential that there are enough opportunities and encouragement for people to continue positive green behaviour.


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