Recycling rates nationally have plateaued, with an increase of just 3% in the past four years compared with typically larger increases year-on-year previously.
Why? Many councils have completed the roll-out of their core recycling services, and captured households that are willing to change behaviour and use the services on offer without too much effort. In other words, we’ve done the easy bit.
Given local government budgetary pressures, investing in new collections systems and infrastructure has dropped down the list of priorities. So any investment needs to increase recycling and reduce the cost of disposal.
Copper Consultancy’s approach to tackling this issue has bucked the recycling trend. The finance-based scheme known as ‘Recycling Rewards You’ has demonstrated that, through innovative communication approaches, genuine and sustained behaviour change at a household level can be achieved. The success of this scheme has given birth in Southend, Essex, to a ‘Recycling Rewards Communities’ scheme which, as the name suggests, harnesses wider recycling support from community groups.
Delivered with Southend-on-Sea Borough Council and funded by recycling partner Cory Environmental, Recycling Rewards You was created in 2013 by bringing together a wealth of local knowledge coupled with specialist expertise in behaviour change. It aimed to improve the existing food waste collection scheme, with no changes to other recycling services.
Residents were encouraged to visit the website recyclinginsouthend.org and pledge their commitment to recycling. Pledges were submitted into a prize draw and, every three weeks, two prize draws were made with winners receiving £250 each. By pledging to recycle, residents had to present their pink recycling sack and blue food waste bin out for collection every week during the period of the strategy.
As it was targeting primarily online entries, social media was central to the communications plan, and more than 15,000 Twitter accounts were reached. Analysis of the @RecycleSouthend Twitter account shows a local, targeted and authentic following – essential ingredients in a social media campaign.
Pledging was a key part of the scheme and provided the main method for evaluating the number of people engaging with it. Around 4,000 pledges were received, more than 5% of households in the borough. Copper mapped the spread of participating households, demonstrating an evenly distributed spread of pledges across the borough.
A survey of participants at the end of the campaign generated a 34% response rate, which showed that while almost all (97%) were already participating in the scheme when they pledged, 40% said the scheme encouraged them to recycle more materials than they normally would. In addition, one in three respondents selected the statement ‘I already recycle and this scheme has given me extra encouragement to recycle more’.
The direct savings to the council from extra recycling generated during the campaign were more than 1.5 times greater than the cost of the campaign. The elevated recycling rate has been maintained and so the savings should continue. The success of Recycling Rewards You sparked the creation of a further incentive scheme, Recycling Rewards Communities, which delivers financial, environmental and social benefits. It is a scheme delivered by the community, for the community.
Again, it encourages people to pledge and in doing so enter into a prize draw to win £250. At the point of pledging, residents must also vote for their preferred community project. At the end of the scheme, the five projects with the most votes will win a cash prize.
The projects themselves promote their group and encourage people to recycle. Some are getting volunteers to door-knock to get people to pledge and vote for them. One project that helps to raise awareness of disabled people in schools has used its links to give out pledge cards so that parents can get involved and vote for them. Another local group, which provides support to parents of children with autism, posted the campaign on its Facebook page and, within 24 hours, it was shared to more than 2,000 accounts.
Reward schemes must ensure a return on investment and deliver sustained behaviour change. The only way to deliver higher recycling rates, as demonstrated in Southend, is to get more people recycling more of their waste more of the time – there is nowhere to hide.
Dan Sage is account manager and John Twitchen is executive director at Copper Consultancy, a specialist stakeholder communications company