Resource Use

Keep Britain Tidy reframes waste hierarchy to encourage circular economy behaviours

New approach to messaging about how to manage waste accompanies the charity’s research and publication of ‘A Guide to Improve Public Understanding of Waste Prevention’

Keep Britain Tidy has introduced a newly refined version of the waste hierarchy, with the aim of reshaping public perception towards how to manage waste. This initiative emerges from the charity's new report, 'A Guide to Improving Public Understanding of Waste Prevention,' which highlights the need to widen the focus from mainly recycling-centric behaviours to prioritising waste reduction and reuse.

The report cites the unsustainable levels of consumption in the UK and identifies a gap in public understanding. The current model of consumption requires resources equivalent to 2.6 planets like Earth, highlighting an urgent need for a circular economy where waste is minimised and resources are reused at their highest value.

Research findings indicate that despite progress, engagement in waste prevention activities remains low. Only a small fraction of the UK population engages in repairing, buying second-hand, or using refill services, underscoring the need for widespread adoption of waste prevention behaviours.

Keep Britain Tidy's research, supported by partners including CIWM, Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Merseyside Recycling and Waste Authority, SUEZ Recycling and Recovery UK, and players of the People’s Postcode Lottery, aims to fill the communication gap. It calls for a unified industry voice to counteract the perpetual marketing messages that urge the public to buy more..

The newly designed waste hierarchy is envisioned to be more than a guide; it is a call to action. It offers more options and details than the traditional reduce, reuse, recycle mantra and presents them in a logical, visually engaging format that resonates with the public's everyday experience. The hierarchy is a tool that helps people understand the actions they should consider taking beyond recycling to reduce their environmental impact.

New version of waste hierarchy to be easier to understandAfter being exposed to the new hierarchy, a majority of participants recognized better ways to reduce their environmental impact than solely relying on recycling. Moreover, a significant percentage felt motivated to protect the planet and indicated a willingness to make changes to their consumption habits.

Commenting on the initiative, Allison Ogden-Newton OBE, Chief Executive of Keep Britain Tidy said: “We have made a lot of progress by emphasising the recycling part of the waste hierarchy.But we can’t just recycle our way out of the climate emergency; we urgently need to shift mindsets and make reuse and consumption reduction a social norm.”

In line with the report's recommendations, Keep Britain Tidy urges local authorities and the wider waste resources sector to use the provided guide to frame recycling as a less favourable option compared to reducing and reusing, without dissuading audiences from recycling altogether. The goal is to foster an ingrained culture of 'reduce and reuse' across the UK.

The report also stresses the importance of varied and trustworthy messengers in communicating waste prevention. Almost half of the UK public would listen to waste prevention information from their immediate social networks, highlighting the potential for messaging that can be amplified through word of mouth and social media.

Ogden-Newton added: “Embracing better, insight-led communications like this new waste hierarchy is an essential piece of the puzzle as it will have a significant bearing on how widely adopted reduce and reuse behaviour become.
"We urge practitioners across the industry to follow our new guidance and, vitally, to come together to tackle the issue.”

KBT is hosting a free webinar on 5th March to discuss the findings and insights from the report and what this means for the waste sector.

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