Consistent communications essential for curbside collection of plastics

New research from RECOUP has highlighted the importance of collecting recycling data and communicating plastics recycling to ensure sidewalk consistency.

Since July 2021, the charity has worked alongside 13 Kent councils in a ‘live lab’ project to understand plastics recycling communications and behaviour. It also allowed for a better understanding of citizen perspectives and an analysis of “capturing, sorting and analyzing plastics data on a regional basis”.

The project found inconsistencies in “various citizen information contact points” regarding plastics recycling. Accordingly, RECOUP expressed the need for labeling on packaging, brands and retailers, local authority websites and media to use the same terminology and messages.

1,900 parish councillors, 700 schools, 17,500 school children, 18 resident groups/councillors and 16 main streets participated in the research. It also saw the delivery of 678,000 household flyers, the distribution of 170,000 community magazines, a social media reach of over 680,000, and the collection of over 3,000 citizen surveys.

The research was partly funded by Innovate UK, part UKRI and industry partners Kent Resource Partnership, Veolia, Ecosurety, British Plastics Federation, Plastics Europe and PPS Recovery Systems. It was also backed by Ocado, Sainsbury’s and OPRL.

Anne Hitch, Head of Citizen and Stakeholder Engagement at RECOUP, said: “This project has provided fascinating insights into the relationship between messages and behaviors alongside other influences.

“The good news is that people want to do the right thing and if we can deliver consistent and accurate messaging across all platforms, we believe we can really start to see lasting behavior change.
“However, communication messages must be based on reliable data, so it is essential that across the UK we measure and classify target and non-target materials in a unified way.”

Sally Ward, Director of the Kent Resource Partnership, said: “This project has provided valuable insights into attitudes towards plastics in general as well as plastics recycling.

“It helped not only to shape residents’ views, but also to change behaviors. This has led to an increase in plastic recycling in Kent to the highest in the UK.

“The project not only provided communications to help take the confusion out of plastic recycling, but explored how residents can be encouraged to reduce, reuse and recycle plastics.

Adrian Whyle, Senior Resource Efficiency Manager at Plastics Europe, added: “Plastics Europe greatly appreciates INNOVATE’s foresight in funding this multi-stakeholder collaborative project through its Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Fund. Without such support, research on this scale would not be possible.

“This research has provided unique insights into how we can strive to achieve our goals of collecting increased volumes and qualities of recycled products from households. We need more high-quality recycled materials to achieve our circular economy goal.

“Through the dissemination of ‘lessons learned’ from this pivotal research, municipalities and local authorities will be able to accelerate the increased collection of higher quantities and qualities of materials from households for recycling.”