Engagement is key to improve recycling rates

Engagement is key to kick-starting stagnating recycling rates

In this article, Tom Giddings, general manager of Alupro, explores the results of WRAP’s latest recycling tracker survey and explains why consumer engagement is key to kick-starting stagnating recycling rates

According to WRAP’s latest recycling tracker survey,(1)householders nationwide remain widely unclear about what they can and can’t recycle. Indeed, almost half of respondents (44%) believe that instructional information provided by their local council is insufficient, considering it a key barrier to recycling more.

While just one of several reasons behind stagnating recycling rates, the implications of this confusion are noteworthy. Indeed, insight from Defra(2) and recent survey data(3)shows that a lack of accurate information is leading to consumers becoming increasingly disengaged with kerbside collections. Unfortunately, this is resulting in perfectly recyclable material being landfilled and an obvious plateau in recycling rates.

So, while huge progress has been made over the past ten years to educate homeowners about the benefits of recycling and encourage them to follow best practice separation at source, there is still more work to be done when it comes to the detail. With local authorities targeting stringent recycling targets, it’s clear that providing accurate information and improving engagement should be key areas of focus.

Improving consumer engagement

With a responsibility to fulfil the aluminium industry’s obligation to exceed packaging recycling targets, Alupro is committed to educating homeowners about the benefits of recycling and encouraging national participation in collection schemes. Through our high impact consumer engagement programmes, we aim to inspire behavioural change and directly impact kerbside recycling rates.

MetalMatters, for example, is our proven communications campaign to help motivate positive recycling behaviour in council areas where rates are beginning to stagnate. Simple, yet effective, the programme is delivered in close collaboration with local authorities nationwide.

Campaigns are based around a two-phase leaflet drop directly to each household in the target area, with additional communications activity to reinforce the message.  Advice and support are provided at all stages to ensure a hassle-free, cost-effective solution.

MetalMatters can be run in a single local authority, to target a select demographic group, or across a waste partnership area. The programme is managed by Alupro, with the intention of making the process as easy as possible for local authorities who have significant resource constraints.

Since the programme’s launch in 2012, we’ve worked with more than 100 local authorities nationwide and engaged with 7.2 million households. As a result, we’ve seen kerbside collection volumes increase, consumer clarity improve and recycling quality rocket.

Indeed, the average increase in metal capture rates is between 9-12%, however, some local authorities have seen increases of 25% within months of a campaign launching. In addition to having an impact on the metal capture rate, the campaign has also been found to have a positive impact on the recycling rate of other dry recyclable materials.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve even launched a digital version of the initiative, designed to specifically target digital natives and savvy social media users – many of whom may have been challenging to engage with previously. Gloucestershire County Council was the first local authority to roll out the digital campaign, with activity commencing earlier this year.

Running for a six-week period, the programme reached an audience of more than 269,000 households, encouraging residents to recycle their cans, foil, empty aerosols, trays, tubes and metal screw tops.

Making an impact

With such a high proportion of homeowners uncertain about what can and can’t be recycled, it’s essential for local authorities to understand the options available to them when it comes to education and information provision. While not the silver bullet solution, MetalMatters is a cost-effective, hassle-free, hugely effective way to deliver an immediate impact to kerbside recycling rates.

What’s more, thanks to the value of the additional metal packaging collected, the campaign pays for itself within just a few months.

Our message to resource-stretched local authorities is simple – recycling targets are here to stay and, if anything, will become increasingly more demanding. The world’s transition to a more sustainable future is accelerating and effective waste management plays a driving role. Budgets are tight and time is tighter, so being aware of the options available to support you is important.

So, faced with stagnating recycling rates and disengaged residents, the time to act is now. Communication is critical to overcoming these challenges and can deliver measurable results for the future.





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