Viridor survey reveals public want producers to pay for recycling

Manufacturers should take financial responsibility for recycling instead of British taxpayers, a YouGov poll commissioned by waste management company Viridor has revealed.

Released today (22 September), Viridor’s Recycling Index found that 67 per cent of those polled believe that taxpayers currently carry the cost of recycling, with 64 per cent (up from 56 per cent last year) saying that producers and manufacturers should pick up the bill.

Viridor truckAt the moment, recycling collections are organised by local authorities but the index found that 55 per cent thought that businesses selling these products should be accountable, with 41 per cent calling on the government to contribute to recycling costs.

The government has previously proposed an extended producer responsibility (EPR) scheme for plastic packaging as part of its Resources and Waste Strategy, which would see producers cover the full costs of collecting and recycling the packaging they put on the market. A second consultation on EPR is planned to take place in 2021.

This is the fifth year that Viridor has been tracking public attitudes towards recycling. It was acquired by KKR in July and has worked throughout the UK to spread awareness of plastic recycling. Last year, it announced plans for the UK’s largest multi-polymer plastic recycling plant in Avonmouth, near Bristol.

Viridor CEO Phil Piddington said: “Viridor also supports the Treasury’s Plastics Tax, proposed for 2022, which would tax all plastic packaging with less than 30 per cent recycled content. This, along with extended producer responsibility, more standardised local government collections and clearer labelling which helps consumers to do the right thing and recycle more, reflects our response to five years of commissioning the Viridor Recycling Index. These messages have come out loud and clear from the UK public.

“Like the public we think that the producers should bear the cost of recycling because it’s important to take responsibility for everything we produce but also because this will be a powerful motivating factor influencing product design. Viridor has always been very clear that the key to empowering the circular economy is ensuring that everything we produce is designed with recycling in mind.”

Viridor’s Recycling Index also revealed that UK consumers are still not being clear on recycling messaging, with a growing number finding it difficult to understand what is recyclable (those who found it difficult to understand whether plastic wrapping was recyclable rose from 27.5 per cent in 2016 to 52.5 per cent in 2020). Only nine per cent of those taking the survey, said they found labelling very easy to understand.

This is a growing challenge and several organisations are seeking solutions for it. Another study by plastics recycling charity RECOUP also found that consumers find packaging’s recycling information confusing. This led to the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) to launch its ‘Clear on Plastics’ campaign to keep citizens up to date on plastic packaging recycling information.

Consumer confusion over packaging was also discussed at today’s Green Alliance event focused on “Recycling in the UK: what do people think?”. Rebecca Pow MP, parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) acknowledged Viridor’s survey’s findings and said that the government has consulted on a mandatory labelling scheme to help consumers know what packaging is recyclable and are minded to take the findings on consumer confusion forward for further analysis.

Furthermore, more than half of people surveyed believed that none of the UK's plastic waste should be exported. The UK Government introduced a commitment to halt all exports of plastic waste to developing countries in its Queen's Speech at the end of 2019, responding to public aversion to plastic waste exports.

You can view Viridor’s Recycling Index in full on the Viridor site.

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