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Recycling, Why Is It Not Working? Part 2

Behavioural Waste, a term coined by MindFit Ltd, enables us to understand and identify inefficiencies within our own behaviour that lead to inefficient working practices. If we apply the same concept to behaviour towards recycling, we will find that the 2 stages of behavioural waste – ‘can’t recycle and won’t recycle’ hinder our efforts towards achieving optimal recycling.

In a previous blog, Recycling, Why is it not working Part 1, I wrote about the importance of implementing the correct infrastructure to make recycling work. In this blog, I focus on our behaviour which plays a key role in recycling.

Behavioural Waste, a term coined by MindFit Ltd, enables us to understand and identify inefficiencies within our own behaviour that lead to inefficient working practices. If we apply the same concept to behaviour towards recycling, we will find that the 2 stages of behavioural waste – ‘can’t recycle and won’t recycle’ hinder our efforts towards achieving optimal recycling. Won’t recycle is an easy one to explain, you simply cannot change everyone’s mind and get them to do something unless there is a penalty involved.

Can’t recycle on the other hand, stems from weak forms of communication.  When recycling first started, it was a local issue, now it is global.  Our communication methods seem to speak to one type of audience, but we are a diverse world.  Our demographics today are diverse and use different methods to intake information. Posters and signage may work for one group of people and a digital message for another group of people.  We tend not to marry the different methods.    We stick to one system and expect everyone to follow it, making it difficult to change from can’t recycle to will recycle.

Behavioural change programs have been stuck in the past, rarely diverting from traditional methods.  Why? Because individuals implementing the programs tend not to see past their usual practices – you could say, this again forms part of behavioural waste. Using the same old system does not require much thought process or effort, therefore making staff less inclined to challenge and explore new themes.

A classic example are County Councils and Local Authorities, which operate bin collections and waste management budgets that run in the millions. They run communication programs costing thousands of pounds.  So how effective are their communication methods? Looking at the snapshot below of recycling rates, one can see that drastic improvements have not been made since 2007, despite the hefty budgets.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs annually publishes recycling data for local authorities in England covering the amount of waste that is sent for recycling, composting, landfilling, energy recovery etc. A random check of 3 UK County Councils revealed the following data:

*Recycling & Composting Performance

County Council                                                 2007/08      2012/13      2017/18

Norfolk County Council                                    40%             43%            45.8%
Hampshire County Council                             39.8%          38.6%         41.7%
Lincolnshire County Council                          50.6%          51%            43.5%

In addition to low recycle rates, contamination rates are high, therefore most material is not recyclable. Most material that is not recyclable does not go to landfill in the UK, but it will either be transformed to a form of energy known as refuse derived fuel (RDF) or transported to another country for processing. This is where it becomes an even bigger problem and can end up in oceans.

Are the Councils questioning why recycling rates are low, why contamination is still high? When we look at changing behaviours, engaging with office based responsible for implementing communication methods is an important step towards effective recycling. Operational staff who are at the forefront of waste operations, cleaners, catering staff, refuse & recycling operators, all are equally as important to making recycling work as are office based staff and the general population.

Does your business empower staff at all levels with the right support and training? Engaging with staff who are in direct contact of the materials and allowing them to carry out bin audits, assess frequency of emptying bins, brainstorming for promotional materials will make them feel a part of the solution. They are more likely to take ownership of their work when they become part of a solution and this in turn will start to change the ‘can’t and won’t’ to ‘can and will’ do.

Behavioural waste is found in many facets of an organisation, in order for us to move ahead, we must embrace change by identifying inefficiencies that we have created. By doing so, we can streamline our working practices and embrace new methodologies which deliver the message to the general public using different communication modes, whilst maintaining the ethos of the message.

For recycling to work, we must at every stage assess the infrastructure and ensure our communication and engagement methods speak equally to our customers and our staff.

*Source: Let’s Recycle

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