Members of the public have been working alongside waste industry experts to come up with ways to boost poor household recycling rates in urban areas of England.
The event organised by Keep Britain Tidy, in partnership with Sita UK, comes in wake of the news that England’s recycling rates are plateauing at around 43% ahead of the Government’s 2020 recycling target of 50%.
Sean Ryan, Defra anaerobic digestion and biowaste team, said: “We need to do something different if we are going to meet the target.”
Two ‘Citizen’s Juries’, comprised of local residents, were gathered together in Manchester and London as focus groups.
At the Lewisham event most members of the jury lived in flats. This represents a particular challenge to urban recycling schemes compared to houses, because of difficulties with space.
Lewisham itself has a low recycling rate. A concentrated campaign improved recycling rates from 16.5% to just 19%.
After a day of education on recycling, the jury was most surprised by the costs of not recycling and the amount of waste still going to landfill. They were told that at current rates existing landfill sites in the UK will be full by 2018.
Delegates cited lack of funding for councils as a major block to improving recycling schemes.
But after learning about landfill tax, one resident questioned why more of the money raised from landfill tax is not being reinvested by the Treasury back into better recycling schemes.
Chris Dow chief executive officer of Close Loop Recycling added: “You are all contributing millions of pounds a year to landfill tax.
“Producers of packaging in the UK this year will pay £40m towards the Producer responsibility (PRN), but where does all that money go?”
Other problems cited by the jury’s included:
- Inconsistent messages to consumers. Having several recycling bins at home and only one recycling bin on the street or in the office sends out a confused message
- Lack of knowledge. Residents are often uncertain about technicalities such as whether to rinse food containers before recycling them.
Another participant said it is difficult to keep recycling when neighbours are not bothering: “There’s a knock-on effect. People think if others don’t do it why should I.”
Ultimately, educating the public was seen as the crucial element to improving recycling. Many delegates admitted that until they came to the event, they had no idea what happens to their bins after collection.
Commenting on the importance of communications, Dow said: “This industry is about missionary work. We are at the early stages of that.”
During the final session of the event, participants came up with several solutions to the lack of recycling. These will be collated with results from the Manchester jury and put to a poll of 1000 people in April. A report will be published in June.
What to change?
Panellists were asked what one chnage they would make to boost recycling rates:
Sean Ryan said: “You have to show the benefits of recycling to people – the more you recycle the more the council saves.”
Gemma Scott, head of efficiencies and local authority support for London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB) said: “We need to introduce food waste recycling.”
Dow said: “it’s got to be more about communication – What does recycling mean? What’s the value of participating in recycling? It runs into tens of millions of pounds.”
Lewisham councillor Kristina Binns said: “Education is the key thing and we need proper auditing of our waste services.”