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The medium and the message

“The days of telling people how important recycling is are over,” Rachel Gray, WRAP’s behaviour change manager, said during an RWM discussion panel.

The statement implies that people are becoming deafened – not because they lack concern, but because they are increasingly short of time.

They need an easy, convenient process for recycling to fit into a busy lifestyle. Kerbside collections are intended to support this. But improvements in recycling performance have slowed. Council figures produced for 2013-14 show the total volume of waste recycled or reused remains varied: from only 17% in Newham London Borough Council and 65% in South Oxfordshire.

There is also widespread concern about cuts to local funding for public services. Listening to the RWM panel discussions, it was clear that councils and waste management companies are adjusting their approach to highlight the positive effect of more recycling on such finances.

When I started in the industry 20 years ago, environmental concern was always the most important message. When we built our first cutaway compost bin display in the early 1990s, WRAP was running a nationwide campaign to increase the popularity of home composting, and thereby reduce food waste. South Gloucestershire Council identified the need for an engaging display – and came to us with the brief to design it.

The campaign ran for four years, with an increasing number of calls from recycling officers for us to create display items to help explain recycling issues and processes. It seemed then a huge step to encourage people to sort their own waste in different bins ready for kerbside collection. Now, the benefit of it to the environment is common knowledge – even if recycling is not yet common practice for all.

Many companies have incorporated recycling into their environmental responsibility charters, and made efforts to adjust their packaging, processes and marketing messages. It is clear that the waste industry is now focusing on building a circular economy through the reuse of materials in new products, and councils are shifting their efforts to explain to residents how recycling makes economic sense.

RWM highlighted some of the resources to help local authorities communicate the message more effectively. This included WRAP’s refreshed ‘Recycle Now’ campaign, which focuses on ‘fantastic plastics’ from September until November – encouraging people to recycle more from kitchens and bathrooms. It will move on to communications tackling paper and card from December, then follow up with metal and glass next March.

Technology supports scheme

The ‘Green Redeem’ scheme, supported by Unilever, offers points to residents for bringing their recycling to a collection point. It uses technology developed by reward card companies, where residents check-in at an intelligent deposit machine with a membership card, scan a barcode on recyclable items, and are then awarded points for the deposit. Points can be redeemed against outings, groceries, and health and beauty, and the organisers are widening the range of affiliated incentives.

The obvious long term-approach to increase the volume of recycling and reuse is by educating our younger generations. Schools are making efforts to teach pupils about the importance of recycling. But the curriculum is already full at primary level, so getting the message across depends on extra-curricular activities such as an environment club or school plays on the topic. Some have invested in physical resources to use at school fairs, such as the recycling bean bag game made by Recycling Displays.

At secondary level, the curriculum covers aspects of recycling issues in several subjects. Teachers note that the problem here is that these are not necessarily integrated, the outcome being that pupils still only follow the lead of their family’s recycling habits.

Recycling Displays has identified that parents and teachers need more support to capture and divert the attention of pupils to the significant environmental issues behind product design and manufacturing processes. Physical games and activities can provide the opportunity to do just that: distract pupils from their usual routine and teach them more about the sustainability of resources.

Larger waste management firms are stepping up, such as Shanks, which is working with Wakefield Council to install an educational display at its waste treatment facility in South Kirkby. Shanks has commissioned Recycling Displays to design the interactive exhibits inside the education centre. It will be a focal point for community groups, schools and interested parties to find out more about the facility and how the district’s waste is managed.   

Rob Mackay is co-founder of Recycling Displays

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