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Recycling incentives have mixed impact

Attempts to improve recycling behaviours through reward schemes can have both positive and negative impacts, according to a new report.

The ‘Investigating the impact of recycling incentive schemes’ study (right), published by environmental service provider Serco, gathered data from five local authorities that had introduced reward schemes.

The graph (pictured above) shows both negative and positive impacts of incentives. The consultancy Eunomia, which carried out the research, also admitted that the results were difficult to measure given uncontrollable variables such as changes in consumer behaviour.

Just two of the five councils showed both increased recycling and reduced landfill.

The report also states: “Three of the five schemes saw an increase in residual tonnage impact (as opposed to the hoped for decrease).”

It also states: “Authorities who introduce residual capacity restrictions tend, fairly reliably, to achieve much greater tonnage performance impacts than authorities which introduce reward schemes.”

Resident attitudes also failed to give strong support for incentives:

  • Just 25% of residents say that recycling incentives would encourage them to recycle more.
  • The majority of respondents claimed they already recycle as much as possible
  • Resident responses also suggested waste service changes would have a greater impact than rewards

The report also found schemes that were less costly to implement were more likely to see investment recouped:

  • Cost of scheme operation, £1 - £2 per participating household - ‘medium cost’: “Closest to being justified and recouped in diversion savings and recycling income”
  • Cost of scheme operation, more than £2.00 per participating household - ”high cost’: “Investment is unlikely to be recouped in diversion schemes and recycling income”

Robin Davies, business development director of environmental services at Serco said, “This new research provides important information in relation to both the costs and impacts of incentive schemes enabling (local authorites) to make better decisions.”

Chartered Institution of Wastes Management deputy chief executive Chris Murphy said: “As pressures build on local government to deliver ever more demanding targets against a backdrop of reducing budgets and austerity agendas this work will provide a valuable contribution to the discussion of opportunities to meet those two demands.”

  • Last month MRW reported a Defra study, which backed claims that recycling reward schemes in isolation will not result in lasting change.

Comment: Rob Crumbie, Greenredeem

“We are encouraged that the independent report by Eunomia notes that on average local authorities that adopt a rewards based approach to increasing recycling rates have seen an uplift of 8% in recycling performance, with an accompanying 3% decrease in waste arisings.

“This upwards trend echoes our own experience with boroughs participating in the Greenredeem incentive scheme. At a time when recycling rates are plateauing across England, Greenredeem’s rewards based programmes have increased recycling by up to three times the national average for participating local authorities.

“In October Greenredeem commissioned a nationwide study of the current attitudes towards recycling, and found that an overwhelming 73% of those questioned would be motivated by rewards and that 60% felt that central government should do more to make recycling incentives widely available.”

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