It was National Recycling Week recently and whilst there were many positive media stories and a lot of encouragement to get people recycling more, Viridor launched a report was launched that resulted in headlines about “recycling confusion”.
This is a term that seems to crop up regularly these days in the media, and it seems all too often local authorities are blamed for having too many confusing systems. The Waste and Resources Recycling Programme even launched its consistency framework at last year’s Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee conference.
So, what is it that people find confusing about recycling? In Pendle we have been collecting the same materials for recycling for the last 12 years via our curbside collection scheme. I have produced leaflets that are delivered to every household annually, which reinforce this message, yet Viridor’s report says fewer consumers than before are confident they put their waste in the right bins.
I very much doubt it is the way my council collects recycling that is causing this so-called confusion. Viridor’s report says “only 16% of the UK public feel recycling labelling on product packaging is very easy to understand”. This reflects what I have heard from residents in my area. At one of our focus groups, quite a few residents asked about why there was a recycling symbol on various plastics packaging, when Pendle BC did not collect this material for recycling (we collect plastic bottles, not all plastic).
It seems this is where the confusion lies; residents see the recycling symbol and think they can recycle the product, but councils are telling them different. Yes, some councils can collect a wider range of plastics, but many councils such as my own are restricted by the materials recycling facility from collecting certain materials. The facility we use is operated by our disposal authority so we have to use it and recent austerity measures have prevented investment in the facility that would allow us to collect a wider range of plastic packaging.
LARAC is one of the owners of the On-Pack Recycling Label Board, which aims to make on-pack messages simpler for consumers. The board advises consumers to “check locally” whether their council recycles certain waste if less than 75% of councils collect it, but do consumers actually do this? At that point a decision is made whether to put it in with the recycling, which possibly contaminates their recycling, or err on the side of caution and put it in the refuse bin, which means we have lost the resource if it was actually recyclable. Ideally materials would fall into the “widely recycled” or “not currently recycled” so the resident has a clearer message.
The confusion is not just one issue, and it is not good for the waste industry as a whole. Attention-grabbing headlines do not help and people may use this term to support their own apathy when it comes to recycling. The ongoing work on consistency has the potential to help ensure labelling becomes even clearer and perhaps then we can put an end to the confusion.
Carole Taylor, vice chair, LARAC and waste services and recycling coordinator, Pendle BC