The adjoining south Yorkshire districts of Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham were returning rates of just 3%, 4% and 5% during 2001/02 which had remained broadly static for the previous four years.
However, when faced with the need for a four-fold increase to meet the 2005/06 target of 18%, the councils not only met this a year early, but blew the level out of the water with figures of 22%, 23% and 27% respectively.
This was achieved by firstly teaming up to commission one of the most intensive waste and social research audits ever taken in the UK, with national specialist consultancy MEL Research (MR) carrying out an attitude survey of 1,000 residents in each borough.
MR chief executive doctor Robert Pocock said: We are very pleased that the research was put to some use as there are lessons to be learnt here for the UK as a whole with targeting the public.
Most local authorities just put in blanket coverage, but it pays to be much more selective in deciding what you put in where. This way you can suit residents needs and get far more people recycling.
While very few kerbside collections were taking place in these areas during 2002, 85% of respondents claimed that they would take part in a scheme if they had one and almost 80% of those with a garden or allotment said they were likely to use a garden waste collection.
Major barriers were said to be a lack of recycling containers, low resident awareness of what could be recycled and 25% believing there was no need to recycle as there was plenty of space in residual wheelie bins.
In response to this, an extensive multi-material kerbside collection was introduced focussing mainly on paper, cans, glass and textiles along with a phased introduction of alternate weekly collections, green waste and cardboard collection.
Each local authority also began specific schemes responding to local needs identified in the research.
Pocock added: Such dramatic improvements can obviously happen anywhere in the country. The way forward is to put money where it has most effect. And you need research evidence to do that.