Resource Use

Consumers want greater transparency around UK waste and recycling, report finds

Four out of five people want more clarity on what actually happens to their waste, according to a new report from waste management company Viridor, published yesterday (24 September).

The 2018 edition of Viridor’s UK Recycling Index examines the views of 1,800 members of the public on waste and recycling issues. First launched in 2016 to track changes in attitudes towards recycling over time and identify new trends in consumer behaviour, this year’s report shows a record high level of public concern about the environment: 82 per cent are worried about the quantity of plastics in the ocean, whilst seven out of 10 consumers are concerned that a floating rubbish island could develop on the borders of the UK within the next 50 years.

Consumers want greater transparency around UK waste and recycling, report finds
Plastic recycling at Viridor's Rochester facility
Many of the survey’s respondents also felt that too much waste is being disposed of in the UK, with 78 per cent stating they believe waste to be a valuable resource.

Despite an increase in interest around recycling, a great deal of scepticism comes with it, as approximately half of the respondents believing the council throws away most of their recycling (an increase on figures from 2017). The majority of consumers feel frustrated about what happens to their waste and the lack of government-provided education on the matter.

More transparency needed

Confusion about recycling is evidenced by the 78 per cent of respondents who said they wanted more transparency around waste and recycling services, with three out of five people saying it’s important to know what happens to their waste.

Viridor found that 44 per cent think their council throws away most of their recycling, while 41 per cent think that even though they separate their recyclables from residual waste, it all goes to the same place.

The report states that there is a clear need for companies such as Viridor to provide more information and reassurance to consumers. Phil Piddington, Managing Director of Viridor, commented: “The 2018 Index shows that not only are people increasingly confused over what and how they can recycle, they’re also becoming less confident that businesses or government are playing their respective roles in ensuring resources are given new life.”

A ‘holistic approach’ to recycling

Even though there appears to be little trust in businesses to actually recycle their waste (with only 1 in 10 respondents believing manufacturers and businesses are being held to account), Viridor’s Index reveals a greater expectation from the public for the government, waste management sector and individual businesses to successfully do so.

The report states that a ‘holistic approach’ from these organisations would be the best route forward to tackle the UK’s mounting levels of plastic pollution, to capitalise on the appetite for change among consumers.

Viridor hopes that the 2018 Index will prompt initiatives which will enable the government, businesses and consumers to work together, to be published in the government’s Resources and Waste Strategy later this year.

“For our part, we are working closely with retailers and packaging manufacturers to make products, including plastics, more recyclable,” Piddington said. “Viridor also wants the UK to make it easier for the public to recycle more and to introduce policies that encourage additional investment in UK recycling.”

The majority (80 per cent) of the public believes that the UK should deal with its recycling without having to export it abroad. Suggested policies to improve recycling rates in the UK include a deposit return scheme (DRS) for beverage containers or batteries and an additional tax on non-recyclable plastics, something 45 per cent of survey respondents said they would be willing to pay. It appears consumers could be happy to spend a bit more to ensure products are made sustainably – a recent report by Veolia, for instance, found that just over half of people would pay extra for recycled material in products.

Viridor is also working with major retailers Marks and Spencer, Tesco and Sainsbury’s, to put recycled black plastic into new food packaging - now up to 120 tonnes of plastic are being recycled each month.

Piddington claimed: “People really do want to do the right thing, but they need a clear and concise message from the government and their local authorities to collectively improve recycling performance and reach national targets.”

The publication of Viridor’s Recycling Index coincides with the start of National Recycling Week 2018 (24 - 30 September), which focuses on raising awareness of and improving household recycling in the UK. To read the findings of the report in full, find it on the Viridor website.

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