Resource Use

Leeds collects 600k coffee cups in ‘on the go’ recycling project

‘On-the-go’ recycling campaigns will be launched in Swansea and Edinburgh after a trailblazing project in Leeds has reported strong results.

The Leeds By Example campaign was launched in October 2018, by behaviour change charity Hubbub and Leeds City Council. The team set out to address the waste problems caused by the amount of food and drink consumed on the go (in other words, outside the home). This is a growing market, with 13 billion plastic bottles, nine billion drinks and 2.5 billion coffee cups bought every year – but at least half of these are thrown into general waste bins, mainly due to a lack of collection infrastructure and poor education around how to recycle on the move.

Image of two people using a new recycling bin during the Leeds By Example campaign
Colourful bins encourage recycling in Leeds city centre
Leeds By Example saw a range of behaviour changing installations around the city, including five ‘recycling reward’ machines, which give out a reward to people handing in plastic bottles and coffee cups. Eye-catching new bins and cup collection points were also placed in busy consumer areas like shopping centres, university areas and transport hubs, reminding people to put their recycling in the right place. Interactive bins that burp and blow bubbles when used also encouraging consumer engagement, with 82 per cent of people aware of the campaign.

Now, the results are in, and Hubbub states that the proportion of people putting their drinks containers in a recycling bin has gone up from 17 per cent to 32 per cent over the last six months. 65,000 cans and 55,000 plastic bottles were recycled during that time, as well as 600,000 coffee cups. “Very little cup recycling was taking place in Leeds before, so it went from almost nothing to 600,000,” a Hubbub spokesperson explained. The collected containers are taken to reprocessors across the north of England, with cans going to Cheshire, plastic bottles to Lincolnshire and cups going to the James Cropper plant in Cumbria, where they are turned into luxury paper products.

This is Hubbub’s largest ever project and involved significant collaboration with major businesses both local and national, including Costa Coffee, McDonald’s, Marks and Spencer and more. Organisations in the waste and recycling field have also lent their support, with aluminium can recyclers Alupro and compliance scheme Ecosurety both backing the initiative. “The success of Leeds By Example shows what can be achieved when partners work together to share expertise, grab public attention and change behaviour,” said Gavin Ellis, Co-founder and Director of Hubbub.

“Lack of infrastructure and unclear messaging is a major barrier to recycling in the UK, and results from our trial have shown the importance of new recycling bins supported by a clear, concise call to action.”

A recycling reward machine in Leeds
Recycling reward machines are used to incentivise coffee cup recycling

The key takeaways from the Leeds By Example campaign

Evaluation of the campaign shows that its success was a direct result of the eye-catching and fun design used on collection points, as well as the interactive nature of the installations.
Four key takeaways were identified:

  1. The public respond to fun and interaction; for instance, the bubble-blowing bins were one of the most popular campaign elements.
  2. The quality of on-street recycling is higher in places where people have more time to loiter, such as at bus stops, rather than when they are in a rush. It is also higher when recycling bins are visible from afar, as people have more chance to notice them.
  3. Recycle reward machines are most effective in ‘closed-loop’ managed spaces where people both consume and dispose of food and drink packaging.
  4. 95 per cent of people interviewed liked the idea of recycle reward machines and most people who used them were motivated by a belief in recycling rather than financial rewards.

Councillor Mohammed Rafique, Leeds City Council executive board member for active lifestyles and the environment said: “The message is clearly getting across to people and the various city centre recycling options and incentive machines have been widely used. We are hearing great things from people across the city which is why we are very pleased to see the extension of the scheme to include even more opportunities for recycling in our city centre.”

As a result of the programme’s success, it will be extended in Leeds city centre for a further six months. It is hoped that phase two of the project will enable the council to see savings in disposal costs from greater quantities of material sent for recycling over landfill or incineration. The Hubbub spokesperson stated: “There are only 40 on-street recycling bins compared to over 500 general waste bins in the city centre, which is why in phase two the Leeds By Example project will increase the number of on-street recycling bins to 100, so that the volume of recycling collected increases significantly and the council start to see savings”.

The model will also be launched in Swansea and Edinburgh in September this year. Ellis said: “We’re thrilled with the campaign’s success so far and it’s the start of a wider ambition – to create a legacy for Leeds and a tried and tested replicable model for other cities to follow. We’re already looking forward to rolling out the campaign to Edinburgh and Swansea in September and we encourage other cities to get in touch about the possibility of launching in their area in 2020.”

A boost for on-the-go recycling

A bright yellow Ballot Bin from Hubbub asking a question: smokers can then vote for one of two answers
The Ballot Bin asks smokers to vote with their cigarette butts
The results of the Leeds By Example campaign show that if people are to recycle their waste while on the go, they need to have the encouragement and incentive to begin. This has been informed by the results of previous Hubbub projects, including its Neat Streets campaigns, which employ behaviour change tools and installations to reduce littering. Ballot Bins, which went into manufacture after the first Neat Streets campaign, are just one example of how interactivity can improve recycling engagement: the cigarette bins display a question and have two slots, so people can vote with their cigarette butts.

This year, Hubbub is furthering its attempts to improve on-the-go coffee cup recycling, launching The Cup Fund in partnership with coffee chain Starbucks. The fund will offer grants of between £50,000 and £100,000 to ‘at least 10’ applicants with plans to develop collection and recycling infrastructure for hot drinks cups.

Incentives to recycle on the go are also being considered on a national level, with the Scottish Government announcing its proposal for a deposit return scheme (DRS), which would see people pay a 20 pence deposit on a range of drinks containers, which would then need to be returned to a reverse vending machine or collection point in order to recoup the deposit. A DRS is also planned for England and potentially Wales and Northern Ireland as well, subject to the results of a consultation.

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