Resource Use

Public increasingly confused and frustrated with recycling, says Viridor study

The UK public is becoming increasingly confused and frustrated with recycling due to a lack of harmonisation between how different councils carry out their recycling collections and difficult-to-understand recycling labelling on packaging, according to a new Viridor study released today (25 September).

Viridor’s UK Recycling Index 2017, a survey of 1,500 people across the UK launched in 2016 to track changes in recycling over time and identify new trends impacting consumer behaviour, shows that some 66 per cent of UK consumers are now frustrated with how different councils recycle in different ways and that 69 per cent are frustrated about not having enough educational materials available on recycling.

In addition, only 43 per cent of residents responding to the survey are now very confident that they put different waste in the right bins.

Public increasingly confused and frustrated with recycling, says Viridor study

These results represent a negative trend in comparison to last year’s results, with public frustration at a lack of harmonisation increasing by three per cent, and six per cent fewer people are now very confident that they are putting the right waste in the right bins.

Commenting on the results of the study, which also show that 66 per cent believe recycling make a valuable contribution to the community and 79 per cent see waste as a valuable resource, Paul Brown, Managing Director of Recycling and Integrated Assets at Viridor, said: “The public are confused about what and how to recycle, with the range of collection approaches in the UK and the stretching of local authority collection periods leading to continued contamination of potentially good material for recycling.  

“A more standardised approach to waste collection, across local authority boundaries, would deliver economies of scale, encourage more social infrastructure in the right places and help boost economic growth.

“The success of the recycling process begins with the public and it’s heartening that people really do want to do the right thing, but they need a clear and concise message from their local authorities if we are to collectively improve recycling performance and reach national targets.”

Recycling responsibility

Beyond the findings that UK residents are growing more and more frustrated and confused about different recycling systems and recycling labelling on packaging, the study also finds a growing lack of trust in the government over recycling and waste issues.

A 43-point trust gap has opened up between people who think it is responsible for recycling waste and those who trust them a great deal to ensure waste is recycled properly – an increase of six points since 2016.

What’s more, 70 per cent of those surveyed feel taxpayers are being held accountable for the cost of recycling products, against 10 per cent for product manufacturers, and nine per cent for businesses and retailers, with 51 per cent believing that product producers should be picking up the cost for recycling products and 47 per cent feeling it should be up to retailers.

Trust issues have led to 72 per cent of those surveyed expressing a desire to see more transparency about what happens to their waste, with 62 per cent saying that they feel it is important to know what happens to their waste.

Paying extra for better recycling

Despite negative public attitudes towards the way that recycling is currently being handled, UK consumers display a willing attitude when it comes to new initiatives designed to increase recycling. 69 per cent of those surveyed said that they would be willing to pay extra for a deposit return scheme, with glass bottles (49 per cent), plastic bottles (44 per cent) and batteries (44 per cent) the products most would consider using a deposit scheme for.

Furthermore, 89 per cent would consider using refillable packaging, however, only 35 per cent currently do, citing lack of awareness and availability as major barriers.

Future of recycling

When asked about the future of recycling in the UK, consumers are cognisant of the negative implications that a failure to address current recycling concerns could have, and call for ambition from government to face up to these issues.

71 per cent of those surveyed agree that a consistent recycling collection system across the UK would increase recycling rates, with 82 per cent expressing a desire to see recycling targets standardised across the UK – 45 per cent think that England’s target of a 50 per cent recycling rate by 2020 demonstrates inadequate ambition.

In terms of potential negative consequences of a failure to improve recycling in the next 50 years, 73 per cent believe that it is likely that there will be oceans full of plastic and 69 per cent believe high levels of water contamination are probable.

The full results of Viridor’s UK Recycling Index 2017 can be viewed here - Viridor - UK Recycling Index 2017