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Enable rather than enforce waste strategies, councils told

Local authorities should use ‘nudge’ strategies to change public behaviour towards waste management according to a new report.

Big Green Society report

The Big Green Society report, published by the Conservative-linked thinktank Localis in partnership with Westminster Council, calls for councils’ role in waste management to shift from “enforcer to enabler”.

Localis argues for authorities to employ ‘nudge’ strategies such as rewards and incentives alongside “Big Society” volunteerism, to redefine social norms and change attitudes and behaviour.  

Localis chief executive Alex Thomson said: “Dealing with waste and recycling is one of the costliest front-line services councils provide. And whilst local authorities must continue to fulfil their responsibilities to their local communities, fresh thinking is required to change the mindsets of those who believe councils are simply there to clean up after them.

Local authorities should be thinking innovatively about how best to change these attitudes by acknowledging and rewarding the work of those who contribute and by working closely with businesses and other public sector bodies to incentivise and stimulate better attitudes to waste amongst those who do not.”

The report says strategies could involve rewarding residents with “thank you text messages” or providing useful work experience and training to volunteers to carry out council waste management roles. It also highlights the importance of communications and says councils should make better use of social media to encourage behavioural change amongst residents and make contacting the council easier.

Ed Argar

Cllr Ed Argar, cabinet member for city management at Conservative-controlled Westminster City Council, said local authorities need find new ways to adopt financially sustainable approaches to waste management.

He said “councils need to continue thinking about how they and society can help change attitudes to waste and littering. We can all play a part in building a more collaborative and responsible approach between councils, businesses, communities and individuals”.

John Wilkinson, May Gurney’s managing director, public sector services, welcomed the contribution to the recycling and green debate.

“Many local authorities have made significant steps through working with private sector providers to introduce new recycling collection schemes which deliver better outcomes for less money, and we expect to see more local authorities adopting these partnerships in the future.

“While the report highlights the role that private and third sector organisations can play in engaging communities to help keep their areas clean and green, it is critical that the Localism agenda and a desire to cut costs does not become the driving factor behind service design.

“Councils need to ensure that a long-term sustainable strategy sits at the core of providing these services, with private sector providers, community groups and volunteers working with local authorities to deliver this vision.”  

Eric Pickles, secretary of state for Communities and Local Government, said: “This report shows that by working in new and creative ways with residents and businesses councils can incentivise and encourage, rather than penalise and punish people into going green and improving the environment.”

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