A chance to slow down and rethink

The COVID-19 pandemic is the most disruptive health, economic and social event in a generation, forcing organisations in every sector to reassess their operations. As the UK begins to find a ‘new normal’, local authorities are in a unique position to review the lessons learned so far, identifying which aspects of their waste management processes need to be updated and refined.

One of the big changes will be answering calls for a greener, more sustainable way of living, to reduce emissions and improve people’s health. Could COVID-19 be the catalyst for greener waste management?

A chance to slow down and rethink

While the coronavirus will continue to affect the way we live for some time, council waste management departments saw a clear change in behaviour during lockdown, with 92% of teams reporting an increase in recycling waste. While some of this was due to people staying at home more than usual, the slower pace of life gave people time to review their household habits.

Local authorities should be looking to capitalise on these considerations, to change people’s attitude to recycling and eco-consciousness for good.

Calling time on food waste

Even before the UK government implemented pandemic policies, community behaviour was changing. One of the biggest trends prior to lockdown was panic buying, with Nielsen reporting a 20% increase in supermarket spending in the four weeks leading to 21st March 2020.

Unfortunately, many of these panic buyers were unable to eat all their purchases, leading to highly publicised pictures of overflowing bins in the weeks that followed.

But these wasteful images may have been the motivation UK households needed to change their attitude to food waste with some suggesting 48% of people are throwing away less food than they were prior to lockdown.

Local authorities can support this trend by building helpful food-saving tips and family-friendly recipes into their marketing campaigns. And where spoilage cannot be avoided, they can provide food waste bins to the local community, clearly advertising collection days to maximise uptake.

Tapping into the public conscience

Being stuck indoors all day for weeks on end has forced many households to look again at their behaviours and take time to understand the impact of their actions. Where once people might have grabbed a bottle of water or takeaway sandwich, two months of ‘going without’ has made them face up to the wastefulness of their daily decisions.

Local authorities have an opportunity to tap into the public conscience and help people to make more sustainable waste management decisions on a long-term basis. On the whole, communities have come out of lockdown keen to protect the environment, and councils can encourage them to recycle as part of this commitment to living a greener, healthier lifestyle.

Alongside providing recycling boxes and regular, reliable collections, there are great examples of eco-friendly initiatives that councils can learn from and potentially adopt.

For example, in 2019, Greenredeem launched a trial programme in Berkshire, where children were invited to return single-use plastic packaging to interactive recycling kiosks, earning five pence per item for their school. Collectively, participating pupils recycled 160,000 plastic bottles in 12 months, with 93% aware of plastic pollution’s impact on the environment by the end of the experiment.

While it’s not always practical for local authorities to launch financial incentives for recycling, the Greenredeem initiative shows the power of people making one small simple change. Waste management teams can continue encouraging communities to modify their behaviour by teaching them valuable lessons about the impact of poor waste disposal on the planet.

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