Resource Use

Better recycling down to promotion, not rewards


Improvements in recycling and reuse tend to be linked to ‘better services and promotion rather than being attributable directly to rewards’, a new report for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has found.

The interim report on the ‘Evaluation of the Waste Reward and Recognition Scheme: Emerging findings’ by research analysts Brook Lyndhurst, examined eight of the reward schemes set up between 2011 and 2013, which were collectively allocated around £310,000 under Defra’s Household Reward and Recognition Fund. In total, the scheme funded 28 schemes.

Under the scheme, the department made ‘up to £2 million’ available to projects that would test how positive waste behaviour change (specifically in terms of recycling, reuse and waste behaviour) is affected through different kinds of reward and recognition.

The findings are aimed at local authorities, ‘especially those considering reward and recognition schemes as a way of increasing recycling and reuse (for example, beneficiaries of the Department for Communities and Local Government’s (DCLG) £250 million Weekly Collection Support Scheme)’.

Report findings

Image taken from Brook Lyndhurst report for Defra

The reward projects largely centred on boosting household recycling and reuse behaviour and targeted a range of audiences, including students, passersby on busy streets, low recycling households, and reuse shop visitors.

Rewards ranged from awarding participants with Nectar points, to giving financial rewards to local community groups.

The eight schemes analysed were conducted by:

  • Aire Valley Recycling;
  • Bath and North East Somerset Council;
  • Birmingham City Council;
  • Gloucestershire Waste Partnership;
  • Norfolk County Council;
  • National Union of Students;
  • Preen Community Interest Company; and
  • Westminster City Council.

‘Reward and recognition schemes cannot be seen as a “quick fix”’

According to Brook Lyndhurst, five of the eight schemes saw an increase in recycling and reuse tonnages. However, it was noted that ‘the degree to which this increase can be attributed to the schemes and, more specifically, to the reward and recognition elements of the schemes is not certain’.

Indeed, the report outlined that across the schemes, improvements in recycling and reuse tended to be linked to ‘better services and promotion rather than being attributable directly to the rewards’.

It added: ‘Rewards and recognition have the potential to validate, reinforce and, possibly, improve a pre-existing behaviour rather than act as a catalyst for new behaviours…

‘Reward and recognition schemes cannot be seen as a “quick fix”. They require careful consideration, time and investment, especially if they are not only meant to be successful, but also to demonstrate their success and impact.’

Resource contacted DCLG for its reactions to the findings, but has not yet received an answer.

The report concludes: ‘From the emerging findings of this interim report it would appear that if certain preconditions are not [in] place it is unlikely that an organisation or local authority would be able to implement a reward scheme that can demonstrate its success. The preconditions that ought to be considered are:

  • Stable, simple, easily accessible and effective service provision;
  • Clear information and strong communications tapping into different channels;
  • In-depth knowledge of target audience;
  • Tailored and regular recognition and feedback of service-use;
  • Ability to demonstrate impact and attribution of rewards; and
  • Tailored assessment and careful selection of reward delivery mechanism.’

The report also looked at sustainability of the scheme and their cost effectiveness, but said that conclusions regarding these would be drawn in the final report (looking at all 28 schemes), which will be made publicly available in summer 2015.

Read the ‘Evaluation of the Waste Reward and Recognition Scheme: Emerging findings’.