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Communication with householders is ‘missing piece of the recycling jigsaw’, claims Axion Consulting

Recycling rates in England are stalling because around half of all householders fail to recycle properly due to confusion and misunderstanding over what goes in which bin, claims Axion Consulting.

Spending more on communicating with them could generate significant behaviour change and lead to improvement in the quality and quantity of kerbside recyclables, suggests the Manchester-based resource recovery specialist and echoing recent concerns voiced by LARAC over the slowdown despite hard work by Local Authorities.

Commenting on WRAP’s recent research presented at the 2014 LARAC Conference which identified four broad types of household recycling behaviours, Axion Director Keith Freegard believes that better communication is crucial to getting more people to do more.

The four groups identified by WRAP are:
• 25% are committed and doing it right
• 25% are committed, but putting the wrong items in the sorting bins
• 25% participate to some extent, but don’t fully understand it
• 25% simply don’t do it

A similar study of household recycling behaviours by Tetrapak found that a lack of understanding about what to recycle resulted in half the nation (51%) skipping a recycling opportunity. Another third (33%) cited uncertainty over what they could and couldn’t recycle.

Keith observes: “It seems to me that a number of important market drivers are falling into place now in the complex ‘jigsaw’ of linked activities along the materials supply chain to start moving the UK towards the necessary targets for plastics recycling.”

He listed initiatives such as the requirements of TEEP that is forcing all local authorities to review their collection systems and assess the environmental benefits derived from them; the MRF Code of Practice aimed at improving material yield and quality from primary treatment plants; ReQuip -the Resource Association’s quality standard for raw material supply into UK reprocessing plants and the Recyclass Tool for improving packaging design for recycling.

“And, of course, the high aspirations of the recently-published EU targets for waste recycling,” continues Keith.

“Yet it feels like the missing piece of the jigsaw is a co-ordinated communication campaign, possibly funded by PRN revenues, aimed at educating people better in order to remove the confusion and motivate them by providing positive messages on what happens to their recycled plastic items.

“Communications experts believe that appealing to the two ‘middle groups’ is likely to bring about quite a significant increase in improved recycling without a massive shift in behaviour as these recyclers are already committed, but they’re just confused and don’t understand it,” he continues.

Of the total £111 million PRN Revenue in 2013, just £0.5 million or 0.4%was spent on developing communication strategies; a sum Keith described as ‘woefully inadequate’ if more efficient recycling by householders is to be encouraged to achieve the 50% national recycling target by 2020.

Keith strongly believes that positive feedback is required to drive behavioural change through communication with every member of the household, not just the one person who is putting out the recyclables.

“The benefits of recycling need to be clarified and fully explained to everyone in the home.
Telling them what happens to the materials they recycle has been proven to generate positive responses as seen with the Metal Matters campaign and as we hope to see with the recently-launched Pledge 4 Plastics campaign.”

He concludes: “Recycling is still hugely dependent on committed urban miners/householders; we need to encourage fairly small behavioural changes by the two middle groups to help bring about significantly greater recycling rates. Positive communications on recycling benefits is crucial to ending this ‘land of confusion’. All that is needed is the will from Government to steer a proportion of PRN revenues into funding these vital campaigns”

Axion Consulting is part of the Axion Group that develops and operates innovative resource recovery and processing solutions for recycling waste materials. The Group works with a wide range of clients, from Government agencies and local authorities to companies in diverse commercial sectors, on the practical development of new processing and collection methods to recover value from waste resources.

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