Nelson Mandela said that “education is the most powerful weapon, which you can use to change the world”.
But when we start to discuss the things that will bring about a step-change in recycling and resource management, we still tend to be drawn to the same old topics of technology, legislation and fiscal incentives. While these are important, the key to our future success lies in our ability to educate and change behaviour.
There is no doubt that, as an industry, we have improved the way we communicate with waste producers, helping them to understand the services available. A good example are the latest waste regulations in Scotland and England, where operators we work with undertook a significant amount of communication to inform businesses of what was changing and their obligations.
But there have been a number of limitations in this communication. First, it has in the main been focused specifically on a particular service, with the objective being to inform users where to put certain ‘waste’ materials. Second, it has not always been sustained, with most of the communication frontloaded to the rollout of a new system or service. The result is that awareness becomes diluted as new users come into the system.
To improve the effectiveness of communication and education, we must take a more strategic approach. This starts by identifying who we are communicating with, defining our messaging for these groups and selecting the most effective channels to reach them.
While we will always need an element of ‘user information’, we need to shift from such an operational focus and the simple dos and don’ts. Helping people to understand why something is important and the positive impact they can have is going to be far more powerful in changing their behaviour.
In terms of content, we really need to get better at telling stories and engaging people. Our focus on service information makes it hard for people to relate this to their everyday lives, and does little to create the powerful emotional bond that is likely to help change behaviour.
There are some bigger ticket opportunities in terms of investment, innovation, job creation and potential for increased contribution to GDP which present us with real platforms for communication. But in terms of improving the quantity and, vitally, the quality of the materials we recover, we need to build a better and clearer link between recycling and other areas of their lives.
One way is to better link the materials people throw away with the products they consume and how this can make them increasing sustainable, both environmentally and commercially, helping to secure availability and control prices.
We can also do more to showcase the innovations and technologies being developed to recover materials and manufacture sustainable products from the stuff we throw away. For the materials that cannot be recycled there are often positive messages around their use in the production of sustainable energy and heat.
The development of our online and social media capability presents a huge opportunity, which we have so far failed to develop. It provides a platform with which people are now familiar and en- ables us to communicate relevant information consistently, directly to consumers in bite-size chunks. It also presents a way to make learning fun.
UKWSL recently launched the first phase of a new Education Zone on our website (www.ukwsl.co.uk/education- zone/), which is hosted by our recycling and brand ambassadors, the Green family. The fun word searches, spot the difference games and recycling fact sheets available for anyone to use, whether they are a customer or not, are already proving to be popular.
In the coming months we will be launching new content, which we have worked hard to link to the national curriculum after engagement with schools, colleges and universities.
It is really important that we are prepared to recognise and commit to the bigger picture by working to educate outside of our direct sphere of business. Taking this further, we should work together more closely and be prepared to share materials and success.
A shift in focus to include non-operational communication will also enable us to leverage the reputational and behavioural change benefits of a more co-ordinated, joined-up and consistent approach on the waste and recycling sector’s big ticket issues.
Max Kanda is director of corporate affairs at UKWSL