Recycling: Are you a guesser or checker?

As in previous years, WRAP’s 2021 Recycling Tracker showed that whilst there is an established social norm and a trend towards more recycling, there is a key opportunity to reduce contamination. The majority (85%) of us put one or more items in the recycling that is not accepted locally. On average each UK household places 4.4 items in the recycling when they are not collected.

WRAPs ‘deep dive’ into the causes reveal that contamination appears to be the result of well-intentioned or misplaced attempts to recycle, as opposed to a lack of concern or care. For example, of those mistakenly putting drinking glasses in the recycling, the vast majority (86%) think that it is accepted in their kerbside collection. The same is true for other key contaminants, such as toothpaste tubes where 84% think it is accepted in their collection.

WRAPs research suggests that UK citizens sit somewhere on spectrum between guessing and checking what can and can’t be recycled locally. So, when it comes to recycling are you a guesser or a checker? 30% of us regularly check this sort of information, 45% of us check for this sort of information for new items or when we are not sure, whilst one in five of us don’t often check, using our own judgement when needed.

So, with three in four of us checking, at least some of the time, what is going on? Checking in and of itself is not always linked with correct disposal choices and sources of recycling knowledge are diverse. Over the period of a month, three in five of us checked recycling labels and logos on product packaging, two in five looked at the recycling bins/boxes/bags and one in five had checked the council leaflet. One in five had also checked with friends and family.

Looking specifically at on pack labels, recognition is high. Not surprising with so many of us checking product packaging for recycling information. 84% of us recall the mobius loop, 73% the On Pack Recycling Label (OPRL), 57% the Recycle Now Swoosh, 55% some version of plastic PET (polyethylene terephthalate) labelling and 43% the Green Dot. However, there is misunderstanding about what the labels indicate – for example, over three quarters (76%) of those who have seen the Green Dot take this to mean they can recycle the packaging (which is not what the label means).

With over one in five of us checking product packaging for recycling guidance, on pack recycling labels clearly have an important role to play. To make checking more effective, consistent and clear messaging is needed. Work is clearly needed to make checking more successful. During Recycle Week WRAP published evidence that an on pack motivational message, in conjunction with OPRL proved effective in increasing participants propensity to recycle the item. WRAPs behavioural nudge unit have now designed and tested a range of messages that resonate with the public. WRAP and Recycle Now are keen to take forward this work and discuss this approach on more products.

But let’s not forget the importance of the council leaflet. It is still the main source of recycling knowledge with for 29% of us and WRAP resources are freely available to all local authorities helping to provide residents with clear instructional guidance. Use our contamination resources and guide to tackling contamination in dry recycling. Let’s make checking more successful!