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Does the power of the press help or hinder recycling debate?

Stories portraying the waste and recycling industry in a negative light appear increasingly to be finding their way into the national press. Experts fear that the extent of this coverage could be damaging the industry.

Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee chair Lee Marshall said: People phone local authorities up after they have read a bad story and get worried. They say Oh I have read this, is this right? and then it is up to local authorities to put the situation straight. Some people will ring up and find out if the story is correct that they have read about and some people will just accept it.

It could be very easily damaging. There is the potential for recycling stories to be very important which can carry messages to be absorbed by the public.

We would like to engage people with the national media to give them a better insight into recycling and the waste management industry in general. From our point of view they could be examining waste management stories like the food waste management campaign, run by WRAP, which would be good for the national media to pick up on.

Five out of ten [newspapers] could do better.

Marketing agency Envirocomms managing director Stephen Bates said: On a national level youve got to understand how the media works and the media in the UK is politically driven. So for anyone who opens that particular newspaper there are political motives and they take it upon themselves to support one political party over another or one political direction over another one and that is very difficult to overcome.

The only thing you can do is work at a local level and ensure that people at a local level support recycling, support waste minimisation and get the national population behind them.

However, Local Government Association senior spokesman Matt Nicholls disagrees with the assertion that perceived negative recycling stories have a bad affect on the industry. He said:

There is a growing public realisation of the need to recycle more. The Daily Mail and Express may not take the stance as we do but the nature of the fact that they are covering the issue raises awareness for people to recycle more. Even if they do not agree with our stance of favouring alternate weekly collections (AWCs) these stories make people realise that they can recycle more. Nicholls continues to say that media exposure of recycling has had a hand in raising recycling rates by influencing the public to recycle more.

Just because a newspaper is against AWCs or financial pay-as-you-throw schemes does not mean that arguments for recycling are not being made. Opposition stories to financial incentive schemes and AWCs offer the opportunity to get the message to the public to recycle and divert waste from landfill.

So what do the Government think of all those recycling stories in the national press? Environment Minister Joan Ruddock said: The national media have a really important role in highlighting waste issues and promoting debate about how services are delivered. But for that to be meaningful they need to avoid scaremongering. Too often it feels like the hype gets the better of the facts. We see inaccurate stories copied and repeated without anyone coming to us to check information, no doubt because something is superficially juicy. The fact that the truth is less interesting shouldn't be a good enough reason for perpetuating scare stories at the expense of householders' peace of mind.

There is also a message which is too often missing from coverage - that of personal responsibility. Yes, it's for central and local government to show leadership and create frameworks, but ultimately it is the behaviour and attitude of each one of us as individuals and creators of waste which makes the difference. It's a shame that encouraging positive behaviour change isn't considered worthwhile."

On a brighter note a report that appeared in the Daily Mail last year about a link between rat infestation and AWCs has been proven wrong. The Daily Mail quoted comments from the chairman of the National Pest Technician Association Barrie Sheard who said that AWCs were causing an increase in the rat population. However, this week Sheard told MRW that he had changed his mind and that there was no direct link between rat infestation and AWCs and that the brown rat population had decreased in the past year. He said: So long as wheelie bins are not overflowing with lots of side rubbish about then you will not have a problem. There are good benefits to AWCs: more materials are being salvaged and recycled.


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