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Viridor uses ‘pester power’ to get recycling moving

28th June 2017

England, Scotland and Wales have some ambitious recycling targets over the next few years and, if they are to be achieved, a fairly seismic shift in behaviour and education is crucial.

Viridor, one of the UK’s largest recycling and renewable energy companies, said its research (the 2016 Viridor Recycling Index) revealed that, while the public instinctively wanted to do the right thing – and put the right stuff in the right bin – 64% were confused about what could be recycled.

 The company agrees there is work to be done in terms of innovation from packing manufacturers and the recycling industry and notes the more than 400 different recycling systems across the UK continues to be a challenge but maintains a great deal can be achieved through education and “pester power”.

Pester power involves inspiring children with the recycling and circular economy messages and then encouraging them to take this home with a pledge to change the behaviour of their household.

Viridor has invested in education centres staffed by officers tasked with sharing the recycling and renewable energy from waste message.

 School pupils come to Viridor plants and learn about recycling, how that which can’t be recycled is transformed to create renewable energy but that much of what is recyclable finds its way into residual waste instead.

Denise Catley, Viridor’s Education Business Partner, said last year Viridor centres hosted 19,327 visitors, many of them children.

She said: “Our simple message to pupils is centred on reducing and re-using things first, then we move on to ‘right stuff, right bin’ for recycling and renewable energy recovery. 

 “We also introduce the concept of the circular economy and the fact that everything we throw away is made from our earth’s resources.”

 Denise said visits led to pupils going home and teaching their family about recycling and in many cases pledging to change their behaviour.

She said some children really surprised the education officers with what they knew about what happened to waste but most impressive was how deeply they cared about the environment at such a young age.

  She said: “I think all our education teams feel a great sense of satisfaction when children and teachers say that it is the best visit they have ever been on and when they go away wanting to change the world which they can in fact do.”

 In Scotland, the team at Viridor’s Glasgow Recycling and Renewable Energy Centre, which has hosted around a 1,000 pupils over the past three years, said they found the recycling message really captured pupils’ imagination and that “light bulb moment” was very rewarding “especially since they can’t wait to take that information home to their families”.

A spokesman said: “The school visits inspire us as it is so rewarding to educate young minds on recycling, the environment, sustainability and all that we are doing at Viridor.  To then see them go away and use that information to create something magical back at school, is so rewarding.  One of our school classes videoed us and recreated it to make a film of their own at school – with mini presenters.”

Viridor Education and Visitor Centre Officer Jessica Baker-Pike, based at the Ardley Energy Recovery Facility in Oxfordshire, said they had more than 1,000 students from key stage two, three and four at the site last year and engaged with another 350 off-site.

Jessica explained that visits to the education centre fitted in with global citizenship classes, geography and science, technology and mathematics (STEM) classes.

What the pupils know about recycling varied but the education officers believe that, while lessons in recycling can start at any age, eight is considered a good age for children to absorb the message.

Jessica said: “There are always students that get it and you can see when they suddenly understand or when you’ve said something which really interests them.

“I know they are the householders of the future and that they do share information with their parents.

“The younger visitors to our centres love to feel empowered to become their parent’s teachers. They deeply care about nature and we like the fact that we can give the older secondary school students aspirations and insight into careers (in waste management) which changes lives.”

Pupils are encouraged to think about the message “right stuff, right bin”, ensure recyclable materials are clean and dry and that batteries are separated from all other material.

Jessica said: “We tell them that humans are the only organism to create waste and that we are all responsible for our resources, protecting nature and our environment.”

She added it was fascinating how pupils from different schools came to the same conclusions about how to make recycling easier – such as smart bin technology, bins with scanners and voice activation and QR codes printed on packaging as part of a joined-up sorting process.

Mark Poole, Viridor’s Education Centre and Community Benefits Officer at Cardiff’s Trident Park ERF, hosted visits from around 750 school children last year.

Mark said the children were fascinated by the waste bunker and grab, which reminded them of Toy Story 3.

In Somerset 4,000 pupils visit the Carymoor Environmental Trust, an education and nature conservation charity which is supported by Viridor, to learn about recycling. The trust also offers an outreach service and works with about 3,000 children in schools.

Trust chief executive Rupert Farthing said he thought it was important for primary schools to introduce the recycling message by having recycling bins in place so the children become used to separating different materials.

He said: “I think basic messages at KS1 level work very well and at KS2 the ideas can become more sophisticated and the concept of reducing waste become an easier to understand.”

Asked what their message was, Rupert agreed with Viridor’s education officers that: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – whether you’re a multi-national company, an individual or a school the ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ message always makes sense.”

He added: “We have a game we play called ‘What’s it made of?’ where we have a bag of products all made from different recycled materials.

“This includes clothing made from recycled plastic bottles and I think the children are always surprised by how a something as hard as a plastic bottle can be transformed into a soft, comforting item like a scarf.

“Perhaps our favourite is paper made from elephant dung though! The idea of transforming dung into paper always surprises the children and makes them go ‘eeeewwwww!’

Carymoor challenges schools to take part in our Waste-Free Lunch Challenge. Each school that visits is asked to try and bring as little waste as possible. After lunch, the children are asked to separate their waste into three boxes – recycle, compost, reuse and landfill.

“We weigh the amount of waste in the landfill box and divide it by the number of children to give us an average. The school with the lowest waste per child wins our Waste-Free Lunch award for the year and we present them with a trophy.

“As a result of this challenge one school recently reported that they changed their policy on packed lunches for school trips and only used reusable containers and avoided products that generated waste.”

The recycling targets:


  • Target: 70% by 2025
  • Current: 62% (Feb 17)


  • Target: 70% by 2025, 60% by 2020
  • Current:44.3%


  • Target: 50% by 2020
  • Current: 43%

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