What's better than recycling?

Environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy has revealed a new version of the waste hierarchy. The release is part of new guidance to help the industry communicate effectively and consistently about waste prevention and at the same time, accelerate the UK’s transition to a circular economy.  
Research carried out by the charity has revealed that people generally default to recycling and there is a lack of understanding that recycling is actually the third best option, behind reduce and reuse, when it comes to waste.
The research found confusion around the terms ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ with 30 per cent of people believing the words are interchangeable.
The report found that current communications are not sending the necessary message that people need to instead prioritise reducing what they buy, and extending the life of the things they have, above recycling.
The research was carried out, as according to Keep Britain Tidy, consumption at its current level is wholly unsustainable.
The report states: “Our current economic model is one of taking materials from the Earth, making products from them and throwing them away, and doing so at an unsustainable rate.
“Instead, we need to live within our fair share of the world’s natural resources and move to a circular economy whereby waste is eliminated and products and materials are circulated at their highest value for as long as possible.”

It was also revealed that waste is seen as something to be ‘managed’ rather than prevented and that people are focused on the environmental impact of throwing things away rather than the environmental impact of having the things in the first place.
Keep Britain Tidy’s research report was made possible thanks to CIWM, Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Merseyside Recycling and Waste Authority, SUEZ Recycling and Recovery UK, as well as players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

Waste prevention

The new hierarchy has been informed by user-tested research insights and emphasises the importance of mindful consumption.
It has already been shown to better educate the public about waste prevention.
The new hierarchy features logically grouped levels, more detailed descriptors than the catchall ‘reduce’, ‘reuse’ and ‘recycle’ terms and is highly visual, with images and symbols suggesting types of items and behaviours to consider. After seeing the new hierarchy, 71 per cent of research participants said it was clear what it was asking them to do, 58 per cent recognised better ways to minimise their environmental footprint beyond recycling and 51 per cent felt motivated to protect the planet.  
Allison Ogden-Newton OBE, chief executive of Keep Britain Tidy said: “We have made a lot of progress by emphasising the recycling part of the waste hierarchy. But we can’t just recycle our way out of the climate emergency; we urgently need to shift mindsets and make reuse and consumption reduction a social norm.   
“Embracing better, insight-led communications like this new waste hierarchy is an essential piece of the puzzle as it will have a significant bearing on how widely adopted reduce and reuse behaviour become.  We urge practitioners across the industry to follow our new guidance and, vitally, to come together to tackle the issue.”
The hierarchy, which is freely available to download and use, has been released that the same time as Keep Britain Tidy’s new report. The report has been designed to provide local authorities, and those in the waste sector and beyond, with practical, evidence-based tips on effective waste communication. The report has been compiled using desk research, focus groups and a YouGov survey, and urges the industry to speak with one voice.

The report has four recommendations:

1) Adapt to the current backdrop

The research shows that the public want to hear more about how they reduce their waste and consumption. In the survey, 71 per cent of people said there should be less advertising asking them to buy things and more information about how to make changes to the things they buy to reduce their environmental impact.

It is important to note that those campaigning for waste reduction are up against marketing campaigns with huge budgets asking people to consume more.
Keep Britain Tidy argues that it is vital the industry collaborates and that consistent communication comes from a multitude of sources so that it is able to compete with the other advertising campaigns urging people to buy.  

2) Avoid ‘catchall’ terms and use everyday language  

The report recommends avoiding ‘catchall’ terms like ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ and instead advocates highlighting specific behaviours. This could be, for example, refering to using a recycling bin, rather than just recycling.

It is also recommended to communicate in succinct, everyday language and use simple phrases like ‘throw away’ instead of jargon like ‘dispose’.

There should be a shift in focus onto guiding the public to rethink their decisions around the things that they buy and use, and not just what they throw away and how.  

3) Frame messages effectively
Keep Britain Tidy has pointed out that it is important to make clear why people need to make changes to what they buy, use and throw away and what the end goal is.

The research participants also said they want explicit information on what the end result will be and what measurable impact their behaviour can have.

It is important that the public’s ongoing efforts to reduce waste are acknowledged, as well as celebrated to help motivate them and encourage further positive waste behaviours.

4) Choose the right messengers  

The research found that 47 per cent of people want to hear information relating to waste prevention from their immediate social networks, their friends and family.

It was highlighted by respondents that the government has a key role to play (32 per cent), but that charities (41 per cent) and local councils (38 per cent), are also necessary to positively influence people’s behaviour.

Those involved in the research said that waste prevention needs to come top-down from multiple trusted and transparent sources that the public feel have good, genuine intentions to make a difference. They also want to receive communications at a community level so it is important to harness the power of local groups, organisations and social networks.

To support the report, Keep Britain Tidy has also produced a free video available to download here aimed at helping the public better understand waste prevention.  
Lee Marshall, director of innovation and technical services at CIWM said: “Residents’ understanding of the services our sector provides, and the ways they can do their bit to help us move to a world beyond waste, is crucial if we are to embed a circular economy and manage resources sustainably. CIWM were delighted to be part of this research, which takes our understanding forward another step and should help all those who are using the waste hierarchy as a hook for communications on resources and waste issues.”
Michelle Whitfield, head of communications & behavioural change for Greater Manchester Combined Authority said: “Recycling is now a social norm, however the link between over consumption and climate change is not well understood. If we are to meet climate change targets and move to a more circular economy, it’s vital that we’re able to clearly communicate the steps we all need to take to reduce the stuff we buy and value our resources. This report provides us with the tools we need to have those conversations with Greater Manchester residents so that we can all take steps to shift our behaviour.”

Lesley Worswick, chief executive of Merseyside Recycling & Waste Authority said: “Merseyside Recycling and Waste Authority is pleased to be part of this project with Keep Britain Tidy. Using what you’ve got, buying only what you need, repairing and reusing – these are behaviours we want to see become second nature, rather than a second thought.

“Recycling and waste prevention go hand in hand and are both positive behaviours that encourage people to take care of their local environment. People want their community to be cleaner and greener. Promoting waste prevention messages can help to make sure we’re giving people the correct information and practical advice to live zero-waste lives."

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