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Transforming metals rates

Targeting messages to different consumer groups in a bid to sell more goods is an approach long employed by marketeers. Using consumer profiling methods, they can form a better understanding of the lifestyles and behaviour of their customers to shape the way they communicate
with them.

Drinks can trade body Beverage Can Makers Europe (BCME) is working with local authorities to trial the use of targeted recycling communications to boost metal recycling rates. Specifically, it wants to see a 10% increase in recycling by weight, which is the equivalent of households recycling one extra food or aerosol can, or three extra beverage cans, each week.

Ball Packaging recycling manager for Europe Norman Lett, who is leading the BCME initiative, says: “We also want to change the understanding people have of metal’s 100% recyclability, how and where people are recycling and to demonstrate greater producer responsibility.”

At the moment, kerbside metal collections cover about 97% of the population but have a recycling capture rate of 40-50%. Lett says participation is hard to measure, but it is felt that residents are not contributing as much to metal recovery rates as they could. Retrieving the ‘lost metal’ that ends up in the residual waste stream is also something Lett says is “already happening and will escalate” via new technologies such as incineration, mechanical biological treatment and so on – something the organisation wants to see happens more widely.

The Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) helped BCME to develop and define the project. “We identified that the challenge lay in stimulating participation of the local authority kerbside systems because almost all authorities now have provision to collect metal,” explains Lett. “To date, typical communication to residents means sending the same leaflet through every household in the council’s care, irrespective of demographic group, current recycling engagement or the amount of material available.”

“Participation is hard to measure, but it is felt that residents are not contributing as much to metal recovery rates as they could”

BCME conducted research which helped to generate a national picture of kerbside metal arisings and capture rates by demographic group (Acorn type), geographical location and collection scheme type. Lett explains that by fusing this information with
work that WRAP had already done on Barriers to Recycling at Home and other recycling studies, it has now worked out who to target, to what extent to target them, how to target them, and what messages it should use to remove the barriers to recycling and achieve ‘maximum cut through’.

“This means we are ‘chopping up’ the population in the same way that a consumer goods company would when they want to sell you a bar of soap,” he says. “We believe local authorities send out the same generic information. But your messages to wealthy
achievers may need to be different from that you send to more hard-pressed individuals. We are trying to learn and value those distinctions.”

Lett explains that BCME commissioned creative agency WARL to devise a suite of communications material that has been designed for different demographic clusters: “We can then target these to recycling round level of around 1,200 households or
ward level of around 2,000-5,000 households”.

Defra and the Environment Agency granted BCME access to more than 120 council waste composition analysis studies, which helped it to identify which materials were being effectively captured for recycling via kerbside collections and which were not. This allowed BCME to see what the metals arisings were in recycling collections and residual waste by category. This was then analysed by Acorn profile, collection scheme, ferrous and non-ferrous material and geographic location.

Lett says it became increasingly apparent what the barriers to recycling or recycling more were. One example is the ‘yuck factor’, an issue around foil and tins that had contained foodstuffs. Residents appeared to be put off recycling such containers because of residual food, with many ending up in the residual waste bin as a consequence. Lett says there is also a general level of ignorance about what metal can be recycled other than drinks cans.

“There’s a whole section of people who do not realise that all ferrous and non-ferrous packaging,aerosols, foils and non-packaging metals such as pots and pans and DIY equipment can be recycled – they are throwing this away in the residual waste bin,” he says. “If we can communicate to people that all metal is 100% recyclable and has an intrinsic environmental value, then hopefully they will not put it in the bin and more will be harvested through kerbside collections and bring sites.”

Lett points to Alupro, the body charged with increasing aluminium packaging recycling, which has launched its ‘Aerofoil’ initiative to encourage more local authorities to collect foil and aerosols and encourage other packaging formats to be recycled.

He argues that if you tailor your messaging to the different groups of people who make up your local population, then you are likely to get more ‘cut through’ to residents and in turn see recycling rates rise. He refers to the categories that WRAP identified in its Barriers report, and says the initiative aims to move people from a state of “unconscious incompetence”, where they might put a soup can in the waste bin rather than the recycling bin, to a state of “unconscious competence” where they will automatically put it in the recycling bin.

Six key messages have been devised covering the ‘how and why’ of metal recycling, from ‘dispelling myths’ to messages around the ‘reward and value’ of recycling. Promotional material already created has been tested and refined using a consumer concept lab. Interestingly, Lett says it was found that those in the Acorn 3 group (comfortably off) had a more shallow level of knowledge about recycling than previously thought. As a result, it was decided that messages for them should focus around the transformation of waste metal to desirable goods they may choose to own, such as watches or mobile phones. “People were spellbound that used metal packaging, seemingly waste, could become ‘transformed’ into a valuable, desirable item,” he says.

Local authorities are trialling the targeted messages and results are expected to be ready to analyse by late summer. The idea is to come up with a suite of communications messages that all local authorities can use. And if residents buy into the idea of recycling more metals, the concept could be replicated with other materials.


As identified by WRAP:

  • Situational barriers – inadequate containers, lack of space for storage, unreliable collections, unable to get to bring sites.
  • Behavioural barriers – not having space/systems in place to recycle, being too busy, having difficulty establishing a routine.
  • Lack of knowledge – not knowing what materials to put in which container, not understanding the basics of how the scheme works.
  • Attitudes and perceptions – not accepting the environmental or other benefits, resistance to household sorting or not getting rewarded for recycling.

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