Winning the Local Government Chronicle (LGC) award did not simply mark the success of a pioneering project to encourage Surrey residents to recycle their textiles, but it acknowledged the benefit of making joint communications a priority of the Surrey Waste Partnership (SWP).
Surrey County Council and the county’s 11 district and borough councils formed the partnership in 2009. It created a joint strategy and worked hard to develop high-quality services, with most materials being collected for recycling from the kerbside.
Between 2007 and 2012, the county-wide average recycling rate leapt from 35% to 52%. But in the past three years, the increase has been a modest 1.7%, despite a comprehensive bi-weekly recycling service, weekly food collections and charged-for green waste collections. Individual borough and district recycling rates ranged from 43.2% to 63.3% in 2014-15.
The SWP recognised that to continue to increase performance and reduce its cost base, a much greater focus was required on communicating and engaging with residents in a clear and joined up way. It would need to demonstrate financial savings if investment in this area was to be sustained.
A composition analysis in 2013 had highlighted the waste materials with the lowest capture rates where the SWP could make the greatest impact. It showed that only 11% of the 10,547 tonnes of clothes and home textiles being collected were being separated for reuse or recycling. So in early 2015 it was agreed to trial a county-wide textiles recycling campaign.
The campaign, ‘From Torn To Reborn’, was developed using the 6Es behaviour change model (see box), which provides a robust framework for working collaboratively, from collection systems to communications tactics.
In the ‘explore’ phase, research was commissioned which revealed that women under 45 years of age were most likely to throw out torn and tatty clothes and home textiles, and had lower awareness of which textiles could be recycled – so they became the key target audience. Under ‘enable’ we worked to reduce barriers to residents increasing their recycling such as lack of capacity on collection vehicles or at bring sites. To ‘encourage’ residents to recycle their textiles, the campaign’s images focused on the torn and tatty items which the target audience was most likely to throw away. Fun and engaging headlines were developed and used alongside striking visuals.
A ‘call to action’ highlighted that all clothes and home textiles – even accessories such as belts, bags and pairs of shoes – could be recycled. As collection methods vary between each district or borough, residents were directed online to find out how to recycle clothes and textiles in their area.
Images and slogans were primarily used in town centres and on retail websites to reach the target audience when they were shopping for new items, encouraging them to recycle those they were replacing. ‘Engage’ tactics included social media, roadshows and clothesswapping events, while collections were arranged at council offices to help ‘exemplify’ residents’ behaviour.
When the campaign was completed, independent evaluation indicated that the SWP had changed behaviour: 88% of residents said the campaign had encouraged them to recycle more textiles. The tonnage figures backed this up, showing a 25% year-on-year increase during the campaign period of April-May 2015. That meant an immediate saving of £46,000 for diverting materials from landfill and selling it compared with the same April-May period in 2014, which adds up to a projected annual saving of more than £250,000.
Keep Britain Tidy
The success of the textiles campaign made it an easy decision to join up all the partnership’s future communications. A communications team, based at the county council, was established and, using the results of the composition analysis, it was agreed that textiles, food, plastics and general recycling would be the priority areas. ‘Recycle for Surrey’ was adopted as the brand, and a campaign timetable was created, budgets agreed and ways of working developed.
Food waste recycling was next on the list, so a campaign was lined up for autumn 2015. The aim was to increase capture in household food waste caddies; working together meant that the partnership could tackle this on a much wider scale.
Cutting the amount of food waste being thrown away has been a priority in Surrey for many years. The county council ran a number of campaigns to encourage residents to reduce their food waste, while the district and borough councils began a roll-out of collection services in 2006. By 2012 nearly all houses in Surrey had a food waste collection service but, a yearlater, the composition analysis showed that only 37% was being captured.
Work had been undertaken locally to try to increase this, but the new joint approach brought a new dimension to food waste communications.
First there was a two-month integrated campaign which highlighted to residents that, if food waste goes into caddies, it generates electricity and creates fertiliser for farms. Alongside that, a door-stepping project targeted the lowest-performing collection rounds in each district and borough. Then the SWP built on trials that WRAP had been carrying out to attach ‘no food waste’ stickers to residual waste bins. It targeted more than 342,000 bins across the county, and recruited campaign organisation Keep Britain Tidy to help deliver this immense logistical exercise. Of the targeted households, more than 221,000 across seven districts and boroughs received leaflets, or leaflets and biodegradable liners, at the same time as their bins were stickered.
Results showed a sustained increase of more than 20% of food waste being put out for recycling, which equates to 5,400 tonnes of extra food waste being collected in Surrey a year.
The councils which delivered a leaflet at the same time as the bin was stickered saw a 21% increase in food waste tonnages, while the councils which had only stickers had an increase of almost 18%.
A service improvement to food waste collections means residents can now use cheaper and cleaner plastic liners and bags for their food waste rather than compostable liners.This removes some of the barriers to food waste recycling, so it is hoped that it will improve recycling levels. A leaflet to inform residents of the change is being delivered to all households this summer.
Another project is underway to tackle contamination of recycling, looking at why contamination occurs in order to find the best way to tackle the problem. Meanwhile, the SWP is also scoping a project to encourage recycling in flats, and it has commissioned another composition analysis to ensure it is focusing on the right materials in the right parts of the county.
The analysis is expected to show that great strides forward have been made. The robust approach to evaluating success has meant that further investment in initiatives has been possible. Working together has enabled the partnership to use a mix of traditional and new approaches to deliver consistent and impactful messages to its 1.1 million residents.
THE 6Es BEHAVIOUR CHANGE MODEL
The model was originally developed by Defra and then expanded by the Institute for Government. The SWP used it to develop its plans.
Explore – what do we know or need to find out about the current behaviours and attitudes of our audience?
Enable – are there any barriers to action, for example, is the right service in place?
Encourage – what communications channels and tactics will best reach the audience?
Engage – how can we interact with residents on the ground?
Exemplify – are we doing in our own organisations what we’re asking of residents?
Evaluate – how will we measure success?
Matt Smyth is chair of the Surrey Waste Partnership officers’ group and waste development group manager at Surrey County Council