Materials campaigns (2/2)
Continued from part one (click here to read the first part of this article)
R: Apart from individual buy-in from local authority officers, what ingredients make a successful municipal waste collection?
FD: A truly integrated contract from the residents through to the reprocessors, where everyone is aware of exactly what materials can be collected, where they are reprocessed and how.
SM: It comes back to the strategic importance of waste management within the council itself. Often, individuals are very interested in doing something with our Pledge 4 Plastics campaign, but galvanising support in the authority is different, because they've got to run something by the councillors, they've got to get a small amount of match funding and getting that in place quickly is a difficult task.
RC: Education of those in charge. You get so far and then you get this stumbling block from council leaders or the whole supply chain. Having case studies helps with understanding benefits.
DC: When we did MetalMatters with the Kent Resource Partnership, they really did consider communications within the council, and by the time the campaign launched every parish councillor and every councillor knew about it and the benefits it was going to bring to the council.
RC: But that’s the good thing about the Kent Resource Partnership – they actually have councillors heavily involved in it.
DC: It's finding those champions isn't it?
R: Do you want to talk about the Carton Credit Campaign and what you're providing and what local authorities will have to do?
FD: Recognising that local authorities were slashing their communication budgets we came up with the Carton Credit idea: depending on a local authority’s circumstance in how they collect and whether they send their cartons to our mill, they get different amounts of credit for different elements they want from sweeties, to stickers to fridge magnets to underground wallets or bus passes. What we've been lacking is an umbrella identity, and that's where Re:Cartons come in, and we will do anything, almost, to get people to start talking about cartons.
R: I'm guessing the PRN system makes a huge difference, that it's actually a consideration in terms of finance.
AB: It's an important driver, or could be if it was more transparent.
RC: With the glass PRN fluctuations recently, reprocessors in the UK were saying hang on how can I compete and pay more for the material when I've got plant and kit down, I've got overheads... And you've got somebody else who can just buy the material, deliver it to the docks, put it on a ship, send it off.
SM: So the UK infrastructure is crying out for the material and it gets shipped abroad.
AB: I think lots of authorities, waste management companies, as long as they've passed it onto the next port of call and they've got enough revenue, they're not interested any more. We've tried to push the End Destinations Charter, but authorities are finding it really difficult to sign up to it because they literally can't find out where the stuff is going, because it changes from week to week or it’s ‘commercially sensitive’.
RC: Also, if your reprocessor is taking in material from an array of different authorities, some of that material might be exported, some of it might go to remelt.
FD: We had an example last week, through Carton Credit where the local authority officer ticked the box saying we're collecting cartons at kerbside and it's coming to your mill, but we have no communication from their waste management company and have never received a load from them. We checked again with the local authority and the waste management company had specifically told them that they were being recycled in our carton recycling facility.
R: What impact do the different recycling collection configurations have when you're trying to devise a national campaign for a specific material?
RC: It's very difficult because the waste management companies will say they have no issue with quality because they have a saleable product. It's not saleable for my members, but it's still going somewhere, it's not going to landfill. So how do you say to a resident, “If you put your bottles in this it will go to re-melting”, when the authority is taking it away and sending it to aggregate? You can't do a national campaign and get to the detail we require.
DC: There are so many messages that it’s difficult to get recycling to the top of the list. One of my bugbears is all these different awareness weeks. If there was an integrated approach, you would have various weeks that would keep the message fresh and constantly in the public attention. Usually, the only way that happens is with Mr Pickles or bad news in the Daily Mail. Getting a national message across when there are so many different collection schemes is a challenge.
AB: It is, yes, and that's not going to change. People think there are hundreds of different schemes, but there are only three core ones, with massive variations on them, and you’re not going to get away from that. Wales is trying to push a source-separated system but even that would take probably the next decade to achieve. So what you need to come back to is consistency in terms of materials that are collected in a way then it doesn't matter how they are collected.
DC: A beverage manufacturer contacted us because they wanted to do a game with fun facts about recycling. We sent them the ‘canny’ facts that we regularly put out, and they came back and said: “Have you got any new ones? These aren't very funky.” People may be getting tired of the message, but if one of the major brands can't sex it up and make it fun for the consumer, help us.
SM: I actually started to look at these ‘fun facts’ we're putting together for this communications toolkit and I quickly came to the conclusion that actually they're not really much fun at all. We just call them facts now. And we know that most residents in the UK have got access to recycling plastic bottles so we are focusing on them. Just over 60 per cent of local authorities offer a collection service for pots, tubs and trays so we're saying where applicable, you can apply the message to recycle your pots, tubs and trays, otherwise we could be causing a huge problem.
FD: And often with the OPRL system, people are asked to check locally for kerbside as an option, whether they do or not is then questionable. I think it’s good that there will be a refresh on the heart swoosh artwork, as well.You need to refresh things, you can't just go out with the same message time and time again.
AB: One of the quickest wins would be to get everybody to use the same colours, the same logos, because again that starts to engender compatibility across the country, or even into Europe, because they tend to use the same colours.
SM: They've had so much change within WRAP in the last few months that it's a good opportunity for them now to look at it again.
RC: I think we need to move away from the product/producer and look more at where it's purchased, as the retailer is the last point of contact with the consumer.
FD: I spent a very happy four days looking at the OPRL usage in cartons across the nine major retailers. One of the things I found really interesting was that a retailer would get it right in one area, and then it would be wrong or just wouldn't even be present on other lines. Of the cartons that I looked at, 40 per cent had no logos on at all.
RC: I think Sainsburys is a classic example of only thinking part of it through. They've taken over all of their banks on their sites and made them all orange, but they have done nothing to communicate to the consumer.
AB: They've decided to go their own way and completely got it wrong. I think it will come back to bite them, because it has with Tesco, who now don't want to run any of their own sites, because they thought there was massive amounts of money in it and they thought they could tap into recycling credits, which I thought was completely hypocritical of a company like Tesco's that's making billions of pounds a year to want taxpayers’ money as well, but anyway that's me...
SM: Every little counts, they say.
AB: The only difference is that Sainsburys will actually give us the data whereas Tesco said you can't have it unless you pay us.
DC: You can't even have a card on the shelf edge saying, ‘Don't forget to recycle this when you've finished.’ You would have thought they'd have a little bit in their CSR budget to tell consumers how to properly dispose of these items when they've finished with them.
AB: M&S seem to be unique in that they've appreciated what waste’s costing them, and they're willing to invest because they know it will bring benefits... In the last 10, 20 years, Landfill Tax has really driven recycling, but the revenues should be going into promoting the resource side of things. I think there's a need to take that further now and start to introduce an incineration tax as well. Nationally, there needs to be a focus on further reductions in residual waste because there's going to be no chance of hitting EU targets unless you squeeze that side of things drastically. I think the 50 per cent is as much of an issue as the proposed 70 per cent target. At our Welsh Conference, even the Welsh Government admitted that the scale of increase is slowing. Seventy per cent is technically feasible, but it's going to be a tall order because you’ll need a complete culture change in the way we approach it.
FD: The focus needs to go back into those local authorities that are really under achieving. Trade bodies are doing work because there's a gap in the market, and quite often local authorities aren't able to fulfil this work, and it's not coming from Defra, it's not necessarily coming from WRAP. So one of the reasons we're all running recycling campaigns and communication campaigns is because other people aren't doing it.
DC: There are obviously authorities that need help, and it's fair to say that campaigns up to now have harvested the low-hanging fruit.
AB: Most of your poor performing authorities tend to be very urbanised cities, where their pressures are on social care and education – they aren’t interested in waste at all. That's where targets are good because it does put that political focus, they have to do or be seen to be doing something. And I think that whilst the UK economy has bottomed out and seems to be growing, hopefully, the public sector has not reached the bottom of its depression at the moment – we haven't seen anything like the cuts that are going to happen post next year. The glimmer of hope is that any potential income that could be generated will get focused on hopefully more and more, especially as the market’s a lot less volatile now, which gives some reassurance that things are moving in the right direction.
R: Looking forward, what needs to change from your point of view?
AB: I think local authorities need to engage more effectively in the process, particularly with end users, but we also need to bring retailers onboard because you need the whole chain singing off the same hymn sheet.
SM: We've tried to relate that to a householder – if every household in the UK recycled one more plastic bottle per week, over the course of the year, we’d generate 64,000 more tonnes, which would mean we will meet our targets for the next couple of years. But we need some sort of drivers to enable us to meet ongoing targets. We're not going to meet them until we get some hard cash in.
FD: I’d look to retailers to take it back to basics, and use the recycling logos properly. With the waste management companies, I'd look for bigger strategic commitments, to support UK reprocessing. Local authorities need some kind of ring fencing around communications funding.
RC: The supply chain is vital in this because for too long it's been disjointed, nobody ever talks to each other, everyone blames each other. You've got local authorities who are collecting the material, you've got manufacturers trying to use the material, and they've never had conversations. And there are brands out there who want to do their bit but don't know how. It needs to start with dialogue.
DC: Looking at it from somebody whose day job is communications, I would love to see some leadership on communications around recycling with the householder. Everybody should take a responsibility for making sure that what they're doing is understood by the people they want to do the recycling. I suppose it comes down to government to take responsibility and put a team in place to oversee it. People need to know what to do and trust in the system so we become a recycling culture and we don't just recycle when we go on holiday!
With special thanks to: (L-R) Diana Claldwell from Alupro; Andrew Bird from LARAC; Fay Daspher from ACE UK; and Rebecca Cocking from British Glass; as well as Steve Morgan from Recoup (not pictured).
Further information about some of the campaigns discussed above can be found at: www.pledge4plastics.co.uk, www.ace-uk.co.uk/recycling/local-authorities/local-authority-toolkit and metalmatters.org.uk