Positive messaging best for recycling

Many reports in recent months have cited the concern over whether the UK will hit the 50% recycling of household waste by 2020. The target, set under the revised Waste Framework Directive, is one all EU member states need to reach, and many countries are unlikely to meet with the current progress being made.

So how do we get the recycling message out there – to those that are recycling some materials but not all, to those that don’t see the need for it? The whole scenario of ‘carrots’ and ‘sticks’ is complex and what works in one area may not necessarily be replicated elsewhere. Recycling should be easy, as easy as throwing out the rubbish, but we’ve made it more complicated than it need be. Having a divergent number of collection systems, depending on where you live within the country, doesn’t help.

To find that a large proportion of the public are still confused about what can and cannot be recycled, in a latest report, is not surprising. Selling Recycling to a Sceptical Public reiterates what others have been saying for years. So the communication needs to be improved, particularly in telling people what happens to the materials once it leaves our doorsteps, where it goes to be processed and what it finally ends up as.

Is it better to entice people with carrots rather than sticks?


Photo: luigi diamanti

What is interesting is that the most popular way people like to find out about recycling services is the leaflet. Nearly 70% of those surveyed preferred to learn about recycling through a leaflet, followed by looking on the internet and conventional letters. In days of social media we tend to forget more traditional methods of communication – but any good campaign will always include a mix of both, determined on the types of people you’re trying to reach.

And having a positive message was key, making a greater impact than negative words and imagery. So perhaps the ‘carrots’ have won over the ‘sticks’ after all.

Good communications will be vital if the UK is to reach its 50% target by 2020 and higher percentage points beyond. Having the time to re-evaluate messaging will be crucial to keep recycling rates moving in the right direction.


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