We’re in the middle of Recycle Week and many of you may have noticed a flurry of activity about recycling in your local area. This year’s theme ‘What goes around comes around’, promotes the concept of the circular economy, ensuring materials are kept within the economy for as long as possible.
It is good to have a focus for a campaign but it takes more than seven days to get messages across and people to change their habits. While Recycle Week is in its fourteenth year, giving the opportunity to discuss the ins and outs of recycling, there is still confusion amongst many householders about what can or cannot be recycled. This isn’t helped by the numerous collections schemes that exist up and down the country with vast discrepancies often between neighbouring authorities.
So seven days is a good starting point, but a campaign needs supporting throughout the year, providing continuous and consistent communications to make a real impact.
This could be best exemplified by the recently launched Recycling Association’s Quality First campaign. The organisation calls for engagement throughout the supply chain as well as suggesting producers should help fund communication campaigns to reduce contamination in recycling. Achieving consistent, high quality recycling is not new but the issue has gained higher prominence this year as China, the UK’s biggest export destination for recycled materials, enforces stricter policies on the materials it will accept within its borders. The UK and Europe does not have the capacity to use materials, particularly paper and card, plastics and metals, and China needs the materials for manufacture. There is a real danger of losing a big export market if quality does not improve, according to the Recycling Association.
This makes senses, after all we should not be using China as a dumping ground for our waste materials. Rather the emphasis should be on generating the highest quality of material that will realise the best value and continue to be useful within the economy for as long as possible. Let’s start by calling materials a resource, not waste, attaching value changes the way people view materials and helps to change their mindset.
Engaging with every part of the supply chain is essential for matters to improve, ensuring that every one, whether producer, retailer, consumer, collector or sorter understands the role they play in attaining quality material. This should extend to knowing about what happens to material once it is collected, where it goes and how is it used for the next stage of its life. Designers should be aware of how a product will function but also the process it will go through once it has come to the end of its life. How easy is it to recycle? What impact does using multi-materials have when dismantling it? What will be the product’s lifespan?
When developing communication campaigns it is vital to understand how each element within the supply chain operates. There are already a number of campaigns supported by material-specific producers as well as the national Recycle Now that runs the annual Recycle Week. Let’s not reinvent the wheel and in these days of budget cuts we will have to be clever in our creativity. But we do need to up our game and invest in campaigns that provide continual, consistent messaging over a period of time. Regular short bursts of ongoing activity rather than a focus over one week out of 52.
Everyone has responsibility for improving the quality of recycling; we can all do our bit. We just need to agree on the financing of campaigns. It surely is in everyone’s interest to do so.