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Youth take a fresh look at how to improve their recycling on the go

Simple alignment of recycling messaging and infrastructures could go a long way to improving young people’s recycling rates out of the home, suggests the new report "Recycling on the go – a youth perspective" published today. Simple and singular symbols, universally adopted, plus easy access to standardised bins are urgently needed to help young people recycle more. The report also expands on a range of ideas to help improve recycling rates of 16-25 year olds "on the go".

Today’s youth are by far the largest consumers of "on the go" packaging. The question of how to increase "on the go" recycling rates for the 16-24 year old demographic has often been aired, but how many times have they themselves been asked to offer recommendations? The Can Makers, the industry body representing the UK manufacturers of beer and carbonated soft drinks cans, decided to remedy this and sponsor a research report challenging young people to look at the issues and create their own recommendations for short and long term solutions.

Extensive desk research was carried out and found, amongst other things, that there were inconsistencies in usage of recycling symbols, both on pack, at the point of sale and at recycling points. In several situations, multiple symbols were used on one item of packaging, often in a misleading way. The students also surveyed their peers and found that 88% of those surveyed said they would definitely recycle more if bins were available. More consistent messaging is also needed, for example, only 25% definitely believed that what they recycled actually went into new products.

Short term, the authors suggest focusing on messaging at three key stages: purchase (eg on shelf), consumption (on pack) and discard (on bins). Targeting major sporting events and parks offer key opportunities to educate young people quickly. Longer term, education establishments play a key role in young people’s view, including establishing green champions and encouraging social enterprise through competitions.

Adam Cooley, student spokesperson and final year student at Oxford Brookes University, commented: "This has been a great opportunity to take a fresh look at the recycling challenge. So often young people are criticised as being the root of the problem, but we are never given a voice to suggest our solutions. Some things, like singular messaging and an increase in the number of standard recycling bins just jumped out as obvious things to do."

"I have to say it has been a pleasure working with such an enthusiastic and constructive group," said Geoff Courtney, chairman of the Can Makers. "We hope this report contributes to increasing "on the go" rates in the near future and the Can Makers will be raising issues highlighted in the report with relevant industry bodies with a view to helping to increase "on the go" recycling rates amongst Britain’s young people ."

It is important to note that the report reflects the research and views of the authors themselves rather than those of the Can Makers or their universities.

The Can Makers are supportive of efforts to increase the volume of metals coming back into the recycling loop from the waste stream. Each drinks can recycled displaces its own weight in raw materials and saves up to 95% of the energy needed to produce another can. The industry’s focus on recycling has resulted in a threefold improvement over the past decade to a point now where the rate in the UK is approaching 60%. Reflecting the Can Makers’ commitment to improve this still further, the industry sponsors a range of projects and initiatives including Every Can Counts and metalmatters.

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