The confusion issue is persistent, damaging and mistaken

It has been a hectic couple of months for LARAC and I have found myself out and about quite a lot, representing the views of our members as best as I can to anyone who will listen. This has involved two packaging organisation related events and two Parliamentary Committees.

The final two were interesting as they were both covering different subjects, one drinks packaging and the other the trade implications from our exit from Europe. Yet on both occasions the old chestnut of the 400 different collection systems (impressive as there are only 367 collections authorities according to our records) came up despite that not being core to the subject under investigation. It also came up at one of the two packaging events where I was told it was “outrageous” that there are still two local authorities not collecting plastic bottles at the kerbside. Not so much ‘glass half empty’ as 'there is too much head on that - top it up’. It would be nice, once in a while, if people applauded the efforts of the 365 that have implemented plastic bottle collections, with virtually no assistance from the producers who supposedly ‘have responsibility’ for these products.

The claim is that all these “different” systems mean the public are confused and so don’t recycle – implication being: it is the local authorities’ faults that the people don’t the make the effort to sort the waste out that they produce.

At the other event I took the bull by the horns to head off this consistent confusion. A simple game, I got the audience to all put a hand in the air, then asked all those who knew they could recycle pots tubs and trays in their kerbside collection to put their hands down. That left about half the room with hands still in the air, so I then asked all those who knew that they couldn’t put their pots tubs and trays in their kerbside collection to put their hands down. I was left with no hands in the air and was able to point out to them just how 'confusing' recycling is.

Now, I know that was not scientific, and I would expect that audience to be better informed than most, but it made a simple point. People are generally not confused, they are, actually more aware these days. They know what can and can’t go in their system, but they also talk more to other people who live in other areas and can recycle different items. In reality, the confusion is around why different areas can collect different things, and that is very different topic to tackle.

Recycling isn’t confusing, but people are being told it is confusing and that alone could be a bigger threat than China and the EU exit. At some point if that message keeps on being pedalled by parts of the industry, and others pursuing their own ends, it will become reality. And when it does then the whole industry is stuffed because we will lose the public, who we are barely hanging on to as it is. So, it needs to stop, and it needs to stop now before it is too late. Otherwise those shouting that recycling is confusing will have created the situation where the public really think it is confusing, and then they will wonder why councils cannot provide them with the material they want in the quantities they want, and at the quality they want.

I ask myself why the industry, as a whole, cannot search for ways to build on the huge infrastructure created by local authorities for recycling, instead of pulling and poking at it like mediaeval bear-baiters. Co-operation should be the order of the day.