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The provision of recycling knowledge is vital for consumers

Rebecca Cocking

…on new approaches to communication

Inspired by the latest evidence that consumer support for glass remains strong (74% of Europeans prefer it to any other type of packaging), we decided to take our British Glass/Friends of Glass campaign to the hugely popular BBC Good Food Show recently. During five very hectic days we spoke to more than 2,000 visitors about the benefits of glass packaging. Only we did not do the talking - they did.

There was no need for a hard sell about its health, taste and recyclability benefits; glass certainly has a fan base that is alive and kicking. But while we were delighted that glass packaging is valued by so many, we were also intrigued by the strength of feeling about recycling in general.

One message that came through time and again was that people are passionate about recycling and want to do the right thing, but are becoming increasingly frustrated by our fragmented national approach to the issue. They are frustrated for a number of reasons, including: “why can my neighbouring authority collect something we can’t?”, “what happens to the materials I put out for recycling?” and “why are materials mixed at bring sites and at kerbside after I have taken the time to separate them?”.

Obviously, it was difficult to talk to everyone in detail. But for those we were able to spend time with, we explained what happens to the material and they went away knowing they were doing something positive.

It was evident that consumers are interested in the food and packaging they purchase. They want to recycle responsibly, but find it difficult to buy into the process of recycling because they are not fully aware of the benefits or the processing technology currently being used.

After talking with some consumers, they said they were going to ask their council what happened to their recyclables because they were keen to ensure the glass was being disposed of appropriately, with particular preference for bottle-into-bottle recycling.

We are often told it is not possible to communicate widely with consumers. However, when we spoke to them on a one-to-one basis, we found they knew quite a lot but wanted to know more.

With this in mind, is there another way of getting the messages to consumers, whether via local authorities, waste management companies or retailers?

One suggestion from consumers was for councils to use their local papers more. Many MPs, councillors and parishes have sections in local papers, but it was felt these are not always used. At a time when council budgets are being slashed and local authority newsletters axed, this might not be a bad idea. Local newspapers, themselves under severe pressure, might welcome a partnership that provides key local information that their readers will appreciate.

It is curious that, despite years of national Government campaigns, local authority leaflet drops and media stories about how frequently our bins should be collected, the consumer still is left asking: “what happens to my recycling?”. Perhaps it is time for a new approach. In the words of Francis Bacon: “If we are to achieve results never before accomplished, we must be prepared to employ methods never before attempted.”

Rebecca Cocking is recycling manager at British Glass

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