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Looking back to move forward

One day in late September 2004, Covent Garden awoke to an unusual sight: Olympic rowing champion Matthew Pinsent CBE driving a giant motorised can.

The gold medallist had swapped his normal craft for the can to launch the ‘Recycle Now’ campaign, WRAP’s major national advertising boost to encourage people to recycle household waste.

The aim of the £10m multimedia campaign – and the new ‘swoosh’ recycling logo – was to reach every household across England and engage them with the recycling message. With the strapline ‘the possibilities are endless’, and spearheaded by a series of TV adverts produced by Saatchi featuring the voice of comedian and actor Eddie Izzard, the campaign focused on the transformation of glass bottles, cans and paper back into everyday products.

Initially funded through to March 2006, and with a further £20m available to local authorities through WRAP for local campaigns, Recycle Now sought to promote behaviour change by communicating the messages that ‘recycling is easy’, ‘everybody’s doing it’, and ‘it’s good for the environment’.

At the same time, it provided the opportunity to engage with businesses on recycling and to introduce the economic message, with then environment minister Elliot Morley saying: “[Waste is] a resource with potentially many uses and markets for recycled goods present a major opportunity for UK businesses.”

The Recycle Now campaign really did capture the interest of both the public and the media. It was great fun (although the jacket made out of recycled Xmas cards wasn’t that stylish!) and there were so many positive messages that it made my job as a recycling ambassador incredibly easy.

Alistair McGowan - photo below

While it was described as the first major national recycling campaign, Recycle Now did have a foundation on which to build.

“It was new but not that new,” says Ray Georgeson, WRAP’s policy and communications director at the time of the launch. “The gestation of the campaign had been a long one, with important precursors in the form of the National Waste Awareness Initiative and the ‘Rethink Rubbish’ campaign, which had also been funded by Defra. These had served to show the value of common messaging and co-ordinated action, and helped to highlight the importance of local communications activity.”

The difference with Recycle Now, he says, was the resources available to ensure the campaign was effective, including market research and consumer focus groups to make sure the look, feel and messaging got maximum traction with the public. The shortlist of creative approaches included a 1970s-styled campaign, using iconic adverts such as the hugely popular Cadbury’s Smash adverts with the Martian robots. The Wombles also got a look in, but it was the modern cartoon family that won the day.     

Alistair McGowan 182

Corporate Culture, the sustainable behaviour change consultancy that developed the strategy, branding and shortlist of creative approaches, carried out extensive audience testing of the messages and concepts. According to insight director Belinda Miller: “While some audience groups appreciated the nostalgia and warmth inherent in the other approaches, it was very clear that most people required simple engaging messages about recycling which showed the value of their efforts. It is important to remember that recycling is an everyday chore, so we needed to provide a reason to act while also showing how easy it is to create new recycling norms in the home.”

Audience research also informed the media buying and PR effort, with a focus on identifying and reaching the main recycler in the household – which 10 years ago was largely women. Julie Fourcade, head of communications and PR at WRAP at the time, says: “On one level it was genuinely interesting to debate the merits of Coronation Street over The Morning in reaching our audience, but the reality was we had a finite amount of time and money to make a demonstrable change to people’s behaviour and we were, quite rightly, being measured against our results.”

The launch phase saw adverts being shown on channels 4 and 5, selected satellite channels and the Granada, Central and Yorkshire ITV regions until Christmas 2004. The adverts were then shown on all ITV regions and national press coverage was biased towards the weekend papers, when people were likely to be more engaged with household activities like recycling. But it was not just about the look and feel of the campaign.

“The ‘behind the scenes’ work was also critical,” says Georgeson. “There was extensive consultation with local authorities, and a lot of work went into developing supportive facts and statistics to bring the message alive. It was important to make sure that what we were saying about the recycling process and its benefits was both accurate and compelling.”

Joy Blizzard, communications officer and then chair of LARAC, remembers it as an incredibly exciting time.

“Some local authorities had already run sizeable local recycling campaigns – ‘Don’t let Devon go to Waste’ being one of the good examples – and were beginning to understand the importance of simple and consistent messaging and branding.

“We had been talking about a national push for a long time, leading to the Rethink Rubbish campaign, but Recycle Now took it to a new level. The audience reach was staggering; we knew, for example, that entire classrooms of schoolchildren knew the adverts off by heart.

“The link to the additional funding for local authorities was critical in providing momentum,” she adds. “Many councils were making the case for new services and the campaign helped to justify the investment. And it made us think about how residents experienced recycling and the services we were providing.

“As enjoyable as it was to be on the breakfast TV sofa, we had to tackle concerns and negative perceptions that we still come up against sometimes today – ‘doesn’t it all go to landfill anyway?’, ‘why can’t I recycle my yoghurt pots?’, ‘why can’t glittery Christmas wrapping paper go in the recycling?’ ”

“The strength of the Recycle Now campaign was the suite of materials it created for local authorities and others to use - I still see the designs on recycling banks today and even stills from the TV advert on the side of lorries. It’s the longevity of the material that delivered value for money for the original investment, as well as the increase in recycling rates.”

Jennie Price, chief executive WRAP 2000 - 2007

The scope of the resources made available to councils played a big part too, she believes, from posters, adverts and marketing material templates to signage for civic amenity sites and the recycling postcode checker on the Recycle Now website. This suite of tools helped to ensure strong local authority engagement with the campaign, and although there were a number who chose to stick with existing campaigns, at the time of the launch WRAP reported support from 90% of councils.

Another important aspect of the campaign was the monitoring and tracking process to evaluate its impact. Dr Julian Parfitt, then WRAP’s principal analyst, devised the survey for the regular waves of tracking that were to be used by market research company NOP for the next four years.

“It was really important to get the survey and the metrics right,” says Parfitt. “It is easy to forget how different things were then; recycling in 2004 was patchy, with a great deal of variation in service provision across the country and there was no springboard of existing behavioural data from which to work. The metrics had to take account of the current situation and the fact that the rollout of kerbside services was going to be in parallel with the campaign.”

The main metric used was the ‘committed recycler’, which was based on three responses: how important was recycling to the survey group, would they recycle if it required additional effort and were they recycling everything they could. Research before the launch suggested that the baseline of ‘committed recyclers’ was 45% and the campaign’s initial objective was to raise that by 10 percentage points.         

Recycle Now campaign

Behavioural change is not an exact science, but Parfitt believes the commitment to investing in a robust monitoring framework, with regular surveys using statistically significant samples sizes and detailed weighting being critical, not least to justify the costs when the inevitable parliamentary questions were tabled about public spending on the campaign.

The analysis was detailed, not only providing information on the success of the campaign by TV region and audience reach through the national press, but also to assess the split between national and local impact as local Recycle Now campaigns were rolled out by councils. It also provided a mechanism to understand the effectiveness of the collection infrastructure that was being put in place – proving very early evidence, for example, of the positive effect on recycling of alternate week collections.

The breadth and multiple layers of the campaign also enhanced the impact, from the Woodland Trust and Recycle Now Christmas card recycling scheme, to the annual Big Recycle Week, seasonal pushes when good news hooks were available, and big audience events such as the Ideal Home Show and the BBC’s Good Food show.

Alongside Pinsent, who continued to support Recycle Now during 2004 and 2005, impressionist Alistair McGowan – a man with a track record of supporting green issues and who has never owned a car – was a major face for the campaign. Other supporters included green designer Oliver Heath, model Nell McAndrew, sports presenter Gabby Logan, TV soap stars Samia Smith and Sammy Winward, TV gardener Charlie Dimmock, tennis star Pat Cash, celebrity chefs James Martin and Kevin Woodford, actress Ronnie Ancona, presenter Gail Porter and countless others.

Political support remained strong; in June 2006, new environment secretary David Miliband had his photograph taken at a recycling facility. He was snapped alongside former footballer Graeme le Saux at ECT Recycling’s depot in Ealing to launch the third Big Recycle Week, which was supported that year by many of the UK’s recycling organisations including British Glass, Corus, Novelis, PaperChain and Recoup.

By September 2005, the figures suggested all the effort was paying off and Recycle Now was doing its job. Just shy of the campaign’s one year anniversary, Defra reported provisional 2004-05 figures showing that English households were now recycling almost 23% of waste compared with 17% in 2003-04, and Ben Bradshaw, local environmental quality minister at the time, announced a further £20m funding for 2006-08 to build on the success.  

The campaign tracking by NOP, meanwhile, showed that:

  • 41% of people were aware of the Recycle Now logo
  • the number of ‘committed recyclers’ had increased to 49%
  • 91% of people were saying recycling was important to them
  • more than 300 local authorities had signed up to the campaign, with 86% using the Recycle Now branding
  • major supermarkets were engaging with the Recycle Now campaign.

The can advert had emerged as the most successful in the UK out of 171 adverts under Add+impact testing, a globally recognised means of measuring the effectiveness of advertising. To celebrate, WRAP launched the first ever national radio campaign with the now familiar voice of Izzard providing his trademark quirky take on recycling.  

By this stage, nearly 80% of England’s households had doorstep recycling schemes against 40% in 2000 and, with strong progress towards the Government target of 25% recycling by 2005-06, Defra was planning to consult on new statutory performance standards for 2007-08. Initiatives were also underway, including work with councils and retailers to pilot ways of encouraging recycling – from new technology at bring banks to financial incentives such as discount vouchers – while the first stats on the cost of food waste to households (£424 a year) were in the public domain.

Ben Bradshaw, local environment minister 2003-2007      

“Recycling valuable materials from our waste was, and remains, an important way to make a day-to-day difference in tackling the wider environmental challenges we face. The Recycle Now campaign was critical to underpin and support the efforts of local authorities to provide the collection services that we take for granted today and I am pleased to have been a part of it.”

With some local authorities already up in the 40% bracket, WRAP was suggesting that every household could recycle up to 60% of its waste. For the first time, the UK started measuring its performance against those in Europe – at the time these included Germany at 57%, the Netherlands at 64% and Denmark at 41%.

Talking about whether the success of the first campaign can be repeated 10 years on, Lee Marshall, chief executive of LARAC, says it will be a challenge. 

“The initial Recycle Now campaign was such a boost and gave local authorities a suite of communications tools linked to a consistent brand. However, the political landscape is very different now. Unprecedented public spending cuts mean councils have little if any additional resource to throw at recycling, and are under scrutiny for the relationship with their residents when it comes to waste collection.

“Any new campaign will have to work within these constraints, but there is huge appetite for it. Thanks to the first Recycle Now campaign, it will have a much higher level of awareness and consumer buy-in to build on, an established and now hugely familiar logo, and a raft of influential partners – including the high street retailers and big brands – who have really got on board now with the recycling message.”

  • Article written by Pat Jennings

FCC logo

The article was produced in association with FCC Environment. The next issue of MRW will feature a round table discussion on recycling with leading representatives from the waste sector.

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