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Pioneering guidelines aim to end recycling confusion – Part 2

11 January 2017

Last week’s blog provided an overview of the National Recycling Guidelines.  This week’s blog ponders how useful they are and what will come next.

The launch of the UK’s first ever National Recycling Guidelines by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) is a significant step and should be applauded.

But the guidelines are just that – a single step in an ongoing and challenging journey towards embedding an effective kerbside recycling culture in this country. Critics may even suggest it’s a step that’s long overdue.

The challenge now is on. The first big aim is to encourage reprocessors, local authorities and waste management firms to continue working together on initiatives like the new guidelines so recycling can be standardised, eliminating confusion and driving down rising contamination which has increased 84% since 2011.

Secondly, how to communicate the potentially overwhelming level of information contained within the guidelines to householders must be considered. In some instances, they may simply want to ‘put the rubbish out’, so need more encouragement to recycle. WRAP suggests that local authorities now have the biggest role to play educating the public, but without the help and backing of industry partners, success may be difficult to achieve.

Effective and simple communication

WRAP says providing too much information to people on what they can and can’t recycle “will, at best, have negligible impact”. So, rather than bombarding end users with information, WRAP says local authorities should use targeted communications, focusing on “materials of low capture and materials that are often incorrectly placed in recycling and behaviours that will have the most impact”.

These may vary at a local level, particularly in areas that suffer high contamination and/or low capture. WRAP says this local understanding will help local authorities decide what to focus on.

The new guidelines are essentially made up of a ‘yes’ and ‘no’ list and WRAP’s consumer research shows that communicating the ‘no’ list is just as important – and in some cases more important – than the ‘yes’ list.

Missed opportunities

The WRAP Recycling Tracker provides lots of evidence to back this up as it records the missed capture of recyclable materials. For example, many people don’t realise they can recycle items such as foil, aerosols, plastic cleaning and toiletry bottles, and plastic pots, tubs and trays.

In fact, the tracker shows that 24% of households put foil in the rubbish bin when it can be recycled and 20% of households make the same mistake with aerosols. A targeted communication from local authorities to householders addressing these two items, for example, would be an excellent starting point.

Within the guidelines, WRAP recognises that boosting the volume and quality of recycling isn’t just the responsibility of local authorities. The organisation is now reaching out to businesses, such as big brands, retailers and manufacturers, asking them to review the guidelines and re-think the design of packaging that can be recycled. It also wants them to consider how they could communicate with consumers to increase capture of recyclable materials and help to reduce confusion.

Across the waste management industry it is important to ensure the best quality materials in a global context which will, in turn, offer companies a multitude of opportunities to market their materials. The new National Recycling Guidelines are a good start.

WRAP plans to publish similar guidelines for garden waste, textiles and small WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) in spring 2017.

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