One of the things I took away from the RWM exhibition this year was a new interest in rubbish - or, more precisely, recycling bins. They seem to be popping up all over the place. Outside WRAP’s offices in Banbury, Cherwell District Council has installed very smart recycling bins throughout the town centre. The building where we recently held our AGM had triple bins to allow for recycling food waste too. And they are increasingly appearing in airports, shopping centres, schools and workplaces.
With seven out of 10 adults now considering themselves to be ‘committed recyclers’, when asked about recycling at home, it is natural to ask what happens when they go out of their front doors? Surely the time has come when we should plan to make it easy and natural for everyone to recycle wherever they are, be that at work, college, on a train, in a shopping centre or at a sporting event.
WRAP’s schools programme has moved its focus from educating students about the benefits of recycling - they get that point quickly enough these days - to making sure they have the facilities to put the learning into practice. For similar reasons, we have worked with a number of universities to improve recycling facilities. It seems a sensible investment to make sure that the business leaders and product designers of tomorrow have a natural feel for resources and how to manage them effectively.
It is not often I agree with the Daily Mail, but I was forced to admit that it had a point when it complained during the summer about councils pushing householders to recycle but not having recycling facilities in their buildings for their own staff and visitors. I know this is not true of all councils; some have very impressive programmes to engage staff in recycling, such as Gloucestershire’s ‘Own House In Order’ programme.
There is not much information about how widespread recycling facilities are in the public sector, although the Sustainable Development Commission has made regular reports on Government departments’ waste arisings and recycling figures. So we know they had arisings of just over 300,000 tonnes and recycled just under half of it (48%), with 90% of total arisings coming from just four departments.
Unfortunately, the same information is not available for the rest of the public sector, so WRAP is about to start some scoping work to identify priority areas for its new business plan, as part of a greater focus on non-household waste streams.
WRAP is obviously not alone in being interested in ‘away from home’ recycling. It has been working with Alupro on its ‘Every Can Counts’ campaign and with Coca-Cola Enterprises on the Recycle Zone initiative. We have also recently joined the ‘Recycle on the Go’ platform being hosted by Recoup. Embedding change on the scale required will need many partners from different sectors to get involved.
One challenge will be building a sense of momentum, using each new example as an encouragement to others to join the effort. Another will be getting the public to make use of the facilities in the way and to the extent intended. My unscientific surveys of the bins of Cherwell suggest that this can be achieved with perseverance and by building on habits established at home. One way of doing that is to use the high recognition that the public has for the ‘Recycle Now’ style of signage in England.
That is part of the approach WRAP has been working on with the 2012 Olympics Organising Committee. It is determined to have the highest possible recycling rate at the Games. As well as making full use of ‘Recycle Now’, the committee is planning to control materials brought on-site by contractors and concessionaires to simplify and maximise the opportunities for recycling.
Wouldn’t it be another fitting legacy for the Games if, when we hand over the flag, we can say that recycling has taken another giant step towards being entirely normal for everyone, wherever they are?
Phillip Ward is director for local government at WRAP