Strengthening Communications and awareness in recycling

It is fair to say that many believe public communications and awareness will, and should continue to, play a key role in the resource sector. Messages vary from trying to encourage more activity, informing people of the benefits of reuse, repair or recycling, how to take steps to improve quality of recyclate or simply explaining to householders and others what we would like them to do. However, there is often a lack of resources to do the job frequently, consistently and comprehensively, which also makes it difficult to monitor the impacts.  In the RECOUP household plastics collection survey 40% of Local Authorities reported that they were planning communication campaigns to their householders about plastic recycling (responses from 206 Local Authorities). This is a huge effort under big restrictions.

Through Recycle Now activity, WRAP has worked well with the devolved administrations, local authorities, reprocessors, materials organisations and others to co-ordinate joint activity on key materials throughout the year and to maximise impact. Each quarter they have picked a different material and have created a strong message to support that material strategy. They have then pushed to gain as much support as they can to keep a scale of message and focus for the set period. They have an overarching theme, which is recycling from around the house, to encourage people to not just think about recycling at the back door as recycling is moved into recycling containers, but to also think about it when in the bathroom, bedroom, living room and other rooms, where items which result in material that can be recycled are consumed.

A couple of other joint communications campaigns include Pledge4Plastics and Metal Matters. Both these campaigns focus on a material specific foundation and have brought partners together to support the campaign on either specific messages or objectives across various parts of the UK.

Pledge4Plastics has:

  • Developed ‘The Secret Life of Plastics’ animations, revealing the ‘secret lives’ of plastics after they are recycled
  • Worked in partnership with Recycle Now to produce a Plastics Recycling Consumer Communications Resource Pack, to support Local Authorities and businesses by providing a comprehensive set of resources needed to run a successful consumer communications campaign all in one place
  • A campaign in Bournemouth to increase recycling on sea front locations – including a beach engagement team, educational talks, media articles, world record attempt and recycled plastic prize giveaways

Metal Matters has engaged directly with 73 local authorities, covering 4.4 million households and has produced an average 18% increase in metals captured in those areas.

As the EU Circular Economy Package makes its way through the negotiation process it is worth considering the strong role that communications and awareness will need to play in order to support the delivery of more challenging recycling targets.  Communicating the benefits of reuse, refurbishment and repair, as well as encouraging people and designers to consider the longevity of the goods they design or consume, together with minimising impact of goods at end of life will become increasingly important.  

At present, the UK producer responsibility systems do not easily support the establishment of a common or coordinated approach to communications in which all stakeholders play a part. Therefore, this area could be strengthened.

Valpak works alongside partners of the WRAP communications steering group to try to help support communications and also ensure that our own communications are in line with national campaigns. We also support the efforts of both Pledge4Plastics and Metals Matters, and run one of the longest standing consumer awareness websites, which developed the first bank locator for recycling sites in the UK. We have consistently invested in communications over the 20 years we have been in existence. It may be that the next 20 years requires a change in legislation to support communications in a fairer and more equitable way, and in turn support recycling messages across all materials and across the UK.