Bag to the Future: Communicating Plastic Bags and Wrapping Collections

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Adam Herriott, Senior Specialist, WRAP - LARAC Partner
2 Apr 2024

With kerbside collections of plastic bags and wrapping peering around the corner it’s more important than ever that we understand, not just how we collect this material, but how we talk about it with citizens – after all, a new service doesn’t work if people don’t know about it or understand it.

WRAP's recent research, as part of the FPF FlexCollect trials, provides valuable insights into how best to engage households so they can participate in the last frontier of kerbside plastics collections.

 

Terminology Matters: ‘Plastic Bags and Wrapping’

Prior to FPF FlexCollect, WRAP undertook an extensive citizen insights study, conducting three rounds of citizen testing to assess the clarity and effectiveness of various terms relating to recycling. The findings underscore the importance of specific communication strategies to foster positive recycling behaviours among the public.

The term 'Plastic Bags and Wrapping' emerged as the clear winner, resonating most effectively with the public and providing a straightforward description of the materials in question. This contrasts sharply with industry terms that are currently in use, such as 'Scrunchy plastics', 'Flexible plastics', and 'Soft plastics', which performed poorly in public comprehension tests.

To give an example of why the terminology we use with citizens is so important, when discussing the research we were doing with a friend, I was promptly greeted with an excited smile and the comment of ‘My local supermarket collects soft plastic. It’s great that I can finally recycle my expanded polystyrene’. All best intentions, but not the behaviour we are aiming for!

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WRAP graph of terminology

Key Communication Strategies for Effective Recycling

Building on the above insights, WRAP developed communications assets utilising the well-recognised Recycle Now branding and knowledge. 

1. Emphasize Change: Use a strong lead message that highlights new developments or changes, rather than normative messages that may blend into the background of everyday information.

2. Visual Impact: The iconic Recycle Now ‘swoosh’ should be a focal point, grabbing attention and reinforcing the recycling message.

3. Visual over Verbal: Images of recyclable items should be prioritised over written lists, catering to the public's preference for visual information.

4. Inclusive Communication: It's recommended to present items that are both recyclable ('Yes please') and non-recyclable ('No thanks/don't recycle') together, providing a clearer understanding of acceptable materials.

5. Colour and Contrast: A solid green background with white/black font has been found to be the clearest combination to read

 

The Communication Strategy encompassed various elements, including:

  • dedicated webpages and introductory flyers (4 weeks prior to collections)
  • instructional leaflets (pictured below, 2 weeks prior to collections) along with collection sacks
  • nudge/thank you leaflets (4 weeks after collections) 
  • as well as other nudge techniques like contamination stickers. 

These efforts aimed to ensure that householders were, not only aware of the trials, but also understood what materials could be collected and why participation was crucial.

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WRAP selection of leaflets

 

Engagement and Evaluation: A Doorstepping Approach

To evaluate the effectiveness of these communications, WRAP carried out doorstepping surveys in the pilot areas, to gain a comprehensive understanding of household engagement and satisfaction. The surveys revealed high levels of recall for communications and satisfaction with the recycling service, though challenges such as the distribution of the communications and collections bags were also identified (and then corrected).

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Conclusion: The Path Forward

Clear, visually appealing communication, along with easy to understand and descriptive wording is vitally important to any new service communications, even more so with a material that is seen as the last significant hurdle to household plastics recycling.  Getting this right significantly improves public perceptions and participation.

The FPF FlexCollect trials are still ongoing and is due to continue to 2025 when we will be publishing all of the project findings, including communication asset templates used within the project. But in the meantime, you can read the interim report, or rewatch the webinar LARAC hosted in February.

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