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Viridor UK Recycling Index highlights dissatisfaction with current recycling systems

13th September 2016
  • UK consumers believe more can be recycled but are frustrated by what they can and can’t recycle
  • 63% of consumers are frustrated that different councils collect waste in different ways (e.g. different colour bins)
  • Consumers most confused about whether they can recycle light bulbs, crisps packets and coffee cups
  • 73% want more transparency on what happens to their waste

Viridor today launched a Recycling Index that sheds new light on the UK’s attitudes to recycling. The Index is based on an in-depth survey of 1,500 people conducted across the UK in August 2016 and provides a comprehensive overview of public attitudes to recycling including key regional differences.[1]

Importantly, the Index highlights barriers that prevent higher levels of recycling. These barriers include a lack of consumer knowledge about what they can and can’t recycle, a lack of consistency among councils with regard to recycling policy and a lack of transparency about what happens to waste once collected.

The Index’s findings coincide with National Recycle Week 2016 that aims to encourage household recycling.

Key findings include:

66% of people surveyed are frustrated about not having enough educational materials available on recycling
78% are frustrated that different councils recycle different things
73% want more transparency on what happens to their waste
63% of consumers are frustrated that different councils collect waste in different ways (e.g. different colour bins)

Dan Cooke, Director of Communications & External Affairs at Viridor commented:

“The Recycling Index shows that the UK’s recycling story and progress is being challenged by ‘wrong stuff, wrong bin’. People across the UK want to recycle more stuff, and recognise the importance of doing so, but they need better systems and support to ensure the right stuff goes in the right bin every time.

Viridor believes that greater transparency in the recycling and waste sector is crucial to rebuilding confidence with UK consumers to support them with recycling. We need to explain further how waste can be transformed into new products, the smart technology used to do it, and the jobs and investment opportunities more recycling can offer the UK economy.

The UK’s recycling policy remains largely based on out-dated assumptions about resources which reinforce old-school waste management contracts and waste collections based on authority boundaries that are not representative of the value of resources to the national economy.

Viridor calls for new and ambitious thinking – from government and local authorities, the recycling sector, retailers and waste producers – that moves recycling, recovery and resource management closer to the needs of consumers and to a more productive economy.”

The Index’s findings suggests that UK consumers want to recycle more household waste than they currently do. UK consumers believe that in five years’ time up to 64% of household waste can be recycled – current recycling levels are around 44.3%.

Despite recycling levels making strong progress in the last decade a recent BBC Freedom of Information request showed that the amount of household rubbish being rejected for recycling in England has increased by 84%.

According to the Index’s findings, confusion persists among consumers as to what they can and can’t recycle. Specifically, research found that:

  • 64% of UK consumers are frustrated about knowing what they can actually recycle
  • Consumers are most commonly confused about whether they can recycle lights bulbs (42%), crisp packets (51%), coffee cups (51%), mobile phones (52%) and plastic wrapping (56%)
  • Less than half (49%) of consumers feel very confident that they put different waste in the right bins
  • 43% of consumers are confused about which days to put the bins out

The Index also points out the lack of trust in the groups responsible for recycling. Local councils are still seen as the group most responsible for recycling (79%). Those further seen as responsible include consumers (62%), the waste management sector (50%) followed by national government (50%).

However, there is a lack of trust in the groups above to ensure that recycling is done properly. Local councils suffer from particularly low levels of trust with only 24% of those surveyed saying they trust them to recycle properly.

Beyond current attitudes to recycling and barriers to recycling the Index presents other interesting findings related to:

  • Regional differences in recycling across England, Wales and Scotland
  • Reasons for recycling
  • The desire for more information about recycling
  • The consequences of not recycling more
  • Earlier this year Viridor called openly for the development of Resource Networks which would see local authorities, business and regulators working at scale to deliver efficiencies in real resource management.

The Resource Networks would offer fresh impetus for Britain’s resources policy in each country (England, Wales and Scotland), aligning with better regulation and productivity and investment agendas.

Specifically, Viridor has called for the government to:

  • Develop as a priority fully-integrated Resource Networks across England, Scotland and Wales that focus on the availability of consistently collected, high quality materials.
  • Develop new thinking that moves recycling, recovery and resource management closer to the needs of consumers.

By doing this Viridor believes that Resource Networks could:

  • Offer a fresh start for resources policy, better regulate and align with the circular economy agenda.
  • Create economies of scale, join-up the country’s value chain, plan for and meet regional social infrastructure and resource requirements, and deliver on a natural capital agenda supporting national economic growth.
  • Develop appropriate levels of social infrastructure and a planned and maintained asset base, without the risk of over-capacity.
  • Aid in the creation of around half a million jobs (gross), reducing unemployment by around 102,000.
  • Boost productivity to UK business.

[1] The Index surveyed 1,500 people online in Cardiff, Glasgow, Manchester, London and the South West.

Download Viridor’s UK Recycling Index 2016 here.

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