WRAP: The Recycling Tracker

The Recycling Tracker is the largest and longest running survey on recycling attitudes, values and behaviours. The most recent survey highlights the need to better guide and direct citizen’s recycling efforts to minimise contamination. But what else does it tell us and how can you help?

Each year WRAP conducts a recycling tracker survey of over 4,000 UK households that gathers evidence on recycling attitudes, knowledge, and behaviour. It is the largest and longest running of its kind, having been undertaken by WRAP since 2004. The analysis compares respondents’ self-reported recycling behaviour to the known kerbside service provision in their area. This enables householders’ behaviour to be understood in the context of the services they have access to.

The most recent recycling tracker undertaken in October 2020 unearthed some significant findings relating to citizen satisfaction and the role of both scheme type and information provision.

Levels of satisfaction with the waste and recycling service are positive, with almost seven in ten citizens (69%) giving their service overall a score of seven or more. However, there are variations in satisfaction across different aspects of the service. For example, satisfaction is high amongst those with a food waste service with an average rating of 7.4 out of 10 for both the frequency of the collection and the capacity of the food waste containers they are provided with.

In contrast, satisfaction is notably lower in terms of the range of items collected for recycling with an average rating of 6.7 out of 10. However, those that scored satisfaction above the UK average for 'the range of items collected' live in authorities that collect 12 or more materials included in the survey.

The lowest ranked aspect of waste and recycling provision in the UK was for how clear it is what items should/should not be included in the recycling collection with a UK average of 6.5 out of 10. This is consistent with March 2020 findings where we identified that clarity around what can and can’t be recycled locally is one of the most cited barriers to ‘correct recycling’: that being citizens recycling all target materials and not contaminating by including non-targeted items. This very much supports the case for continuous provision of information to householders on what can and can’t be accepted for recycling locally.

The results demonstrate that overall satisfaction with service is not associated with either the frequency of residual waste collections or amount of residual waste capacity provided. In other words, limiting the amount of residual waste capacity does not in and of itself lead to lower levels of satisfaction with the service. Nor is there any association with scheme type, with satisfaction similar among those with co-mingled and multi-stream collections.

Local Authorities can be assured that restricting residual collections or changing how they collect dry recycling - e.g. moving from single stream to two stream - won't be detrimental to resident satisfaction and in the case of the introduction of a separate food waste collection may enhance overall levels of satisfaction.

What’s more when it comes to citizen behaviour, scheme characteristics appear particularly prominent, with notably strong associations between ‘correct recycling’ and the range of materials targeted, the restriction of residual waste capacity and the provision of a food waste collection.

There are three big takeaways for me from this latest survey:

  • A greater range of materials collected is associated with both higher levels of citizen satisfaction and more effective recycling - greater capture, less contamination
  • Clarity about what can and can't be recycled remains a barrier to 'correct' recycling behaviour and is also the element most associated with lower levels of citizen satisfaction therefore it is imperative that local authorities provide regular communications on what can and can’t be accepted locally, using the full range of communications tools available to them
  • Local Authorities can be re-assured that restricting residual collections or changing the method by which dry recycling and food waste are collected won't be detrimental to resident satisfaction.

The full report from the October 2020 survey is available to download from the WRAP website.

You can help by embedding the Recycling Locator on your website, using the Recycle Now Resource Library, provide clear instructions on what can and can’t be recycled locally, and work towards collecting a common set of dry recyclables and food waste.