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London Assembly questions long term gains of incentive and compulsory recycling schemes  

The long term increases in recycling rates promised by compulsory and incentive based recycling schemes “remain unsubstantiated” a report by the London Assembly’s environment committee has warned.

The Assembly’s report Carrots and Sticks – a review of reward and compulsory recycling incentive schemes compared the merits of both incentive schemes such as Recyclebank, and compulsory recycling schemes taken up by London borough councils such as Brent, Islington and Lambeth, using measures of recycling rate, cost, public perception and tackling London-specific challenges.

It found:

  • Both strategies improved recycling rates, but it was difficult to determine whether this was due to the success of the schemes themselves or the accompanying service changes and communications strategies.
  • The costs of the Recyclebank scheme were “considerably more expensive” to implement than the compulsory schemes
  • Online reporting of waste in incentive schemes could be problematic in London, where 26% of residents do not have internet access.

In its conclusions, the report called for the development of a “more comprehensive evidence base” to determine the impact of the schemes on recycling rates in the longer term and questioned the wisdom of “re-incentivising” households to recycle if rates start to plateau, over a continuous communications campaign.

London Assembly environment committee deputy-chair Darren Johnson AM said: “We found that recycling rates had improved quite dramatically in boroughs operating either scheme, but less certain is whether the dramatic increases can be sustained and whether individuals are prompted to manage their waste more sustainably in the long term. We need more data to properly determine the impact of financial incentive schemes on recycling rates.

“Communications has a pivotal role to play. It contributes to the successful delivery of a scheme, but more importantly, can stimulate and help maintain an interest in how individuals can better manage their waste and contribute to a cleaner environment.”

In a response to the report, recycling incentive scheme Local Green Points, which rewards communities for their performance said: “We welcome the report, it shows that incentives are coming of age - and we are proud of our modest involvement in that. We have long recognised that there exists no one-size-fits-all solution to waste management and Local Green Points was developed with this at the forefront of our minds.

 “When we developed the Local Green Points scheme, we recognised that it [Local authorities] would have to have the ability to enter in at many different points along a curve of behaviour change depending upon the performance of an individual authority. 

“At the bottom it would be a pure incentive scheme, encouraging people to recycle and as performance increases, it becomes what is better described as a loyalty scheme – encouraging people to keep recycling.”

Local Green Points is due to launch in the London Borough of Bexley in Summer 2011.

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