Posted by Gareth Morton on 4 January 2017
Christmas has always been a difficult time for recycling services: collections need rescheduling around the holidays, the weather can be tricksy and all that Christmas excess needs to be dealt with, piling on the pressure. And then, when it’s all sorted out, it’s back to ‘normal’ (whatever that is!) and dealing with the usual problems of improving performance by increasing recycling and reducing contamination.
Contamination has been a thorn in the side of the recycling industry for many years and the latest Defra statistics indicate the problem is getting worse. That’s why our webinars looking at recycling communications and, in particular, ways to tackle contamination, have been so popular. Since our first webinar in December 2015, we’ve run two more on the subject which have been attended by over 250 people! I’ve also spoken at LARAC (another big audience), written a couple of blog posts and, just before Christmas, Wastes Management published an article we wrote about the issue.
A lot of the research suggests people are confused by recycling services and that could well be true. However, the main question for me is WHY ARE PEOPLE CONFUSED? There’s one simple reason: local authorities aren’t getting their individual local recycling messages through, so people are getting confused (and frustrated) by all the adverse ‘noise’ and criticism being created elsewhere (naming no names).
The thing is, the act of recycling isn’t difficult but people do have to invest a bit of time working it out and if services alter, hard-wired behaviours can be difficult to change. And if people get it wrong - well there are lots of excuses aren’t there?
Recycling and waste services are the most widely used and appreciated council service but we’re failing the public if they’re not getting the message and if their recycling is going to waste because of the habits of a minority. Contamination can also cost local councils (and their local council tax payers) a small fortune (quite large fortunes in some cases) which is very bad news in these cash-strapped times. Furthermore, with the growing interest to reduce recycling and waste collection costs resulting in many authorities looking hard at extending the frequency of residual collections, the pressures on recycling services to deliver quality and quantity are only going to increase.
This is where comprehensive communications programmes must, once again, become a vital element in efforts to control spiralling costs, address contamination and increase the quality and quantity of recycling. Ricardo Energy & Environment has worked with many councils to develop communications programmes to support service change for alternate week and extended frequency collections, as well as introducing food waste collections. We’ve also helped a number of councils develop communications and engagement programmes to help them address contamination issues. These programmes target internal audiences as well as the public and look at the technical aspects of services that could be improved as well as communications.
In our experience the solutions are never one-dimensional, and usually a combination of technical or service improvements are required, along with improved communications with the public and engagement of staff on the issues, the causes and solutions. That’s also why we talk about ‘programmes’ rather than campaigns because the latter imply a beginning and an end, whereas a programme is a continual process. We’ve worked with crews, senior officers, elected members and council communication teams to convince them of the importance of the issue and how they can help address it. This is always a positive process, leading to improved performance and internal co-operation. The end result is always the same: service improvements, increased morale and commitment, raised public awareness, increased recycling, reduced contamination and additional costs (due to rejection of loads) brought under control.
If contamination, increasing the quality or quantity of recycling, or service change are issues that are taking the fun out of the New Year then see what technical and communications cheer we can bring to you. Feel free to contact me on my details below for an initial discussion:
Principal Consultant, Recycling Communications
01235 75 3130
07968 707 034
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