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Beyond the Brexit Bubble - Blog Series: Waste & Recycling

Tuesday 7 January 2020 Data Insight & Analytics

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Stewart Eldridge's picture
By Stewart Eldridge

 

Beyond the Brexit Bubble – Blog #3

Brexit’s domination of national headlines, central government focus and resources has become even more extreme in recent months. But for local authorities, everyday societal and social challenges are as pressing as ever.

Our local authority blog series looks beyond the Brexit agenda to spotlight the critical public sector issues that urgently need attention, innovation and solutions, whatever the political agenda. Working with dedicated local authority organisations every day, we’re intent on supporting them to maintain their vital focus on vulnerable individuals and communities around the UK.

 

Waste and recycling: Local and national insight are both vital in applying proven prevention tactics

Now more than ever, local authorities are under immense pressure to improve their waste and recycling policies and facilities. Crucially, they also must increase participation, in response to today’s ultra-high political, media and public focus on climate change and the environment which will be a big focus throughout 2020.

As a society it is recognised that we need to do more to reduce consumption, increase the re-use of resources and recycle more. While the debate about how to apportion responsibility continues, it’s clear that consumers, manufacturers, supermarkets and waste collectors as well as national and local governments all have a role to play.

The latest statistics released by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) reveal that England’s ‘waste from households’ recycling rate has risen by 0.3 per cent to 45.1 per cent in 2018/19. England is certain to miss the EU target to recycle 50 per cent of waste generated by households by 2020, while Northern Ireland (50%) and Wales (67%) have already exceeded their targets.

England is certain to miss the EU target to recycle 50 per cent of waste generated by households by 2020, while Northern Ireland (50%) and Wales (67%) have already exceeded their targets

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)

Taking the recycling of coffee cups as an example, it’s likely you’ll have seen waste and recycling initiatives by organisations like Leeds City Council and Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. More than 1.2 million coffee cups have been recycled in the first year of a trial scheme to cut waste in Leeds. At the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital they have been working with Costa Coffee to drive a recycling programme where the cups are turned into stationery books.

 

The best recycling approaches for local authorities

At the Local Government Association (LGA) conference in July 2019, speakers from Nestle UK, South London Waste Partnership and Suez Recycling & Recovery (chaired by Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council) debated whether local democracy is at odds with efficient service delivery. From these diverse perspectives, there was consensus that responsibility should sit with manufacturers, producers and supermarkets to reduce packaging at source. Another area of responsibility identified the inconsistency of recycling, waste collection and processing.

But it was the need for us consumers to change our attitude and behaviour towards recycling that everyone universally acknowledged and championed.

Interestingly, since the conference the LGA is also now calling on the government to force producers to pay for all their waste disposal. It also asserts that recycling labels on consumer packaging are confusing.

 

Motivate consumers to support recycling and waste programmes

Many consumers are willing to take part in kerbside and community recycling schemes, however there’s widespread confusion about what can and can’t be recycled. For example, yogurt pots are recyclable in some areas, but not others, and the information on the packaging itself isn’t clear. Different areas use different coloured bins, some offer mixed collections and others require separation.

Of course, it’s not as simple as determining the best practice for all consumers, regions and implementing these unilaterally. In an ideal world, every authority would deliver the same, optimal services in identical ways, but in practice, there’s no single solution that’s right for every authority or all consumers.

Local government must act within their budgets and work with available infrastructure, facilities and the local built environment. A good example of this is Oxfordshire County Council’s joint venture with Viridor; this collaboration recently earned them the title of top recycler in England. Continuous improvement is vital, but it’s not realistic to think that every ideal measure can immediately be deployed.

 

Use data to optimise recycling processes and communications

In our digital age, local authorities have one powerful resource to support effective decision-making: data.

By adopting a blended data approach, geodemographic datasets can supplement open and locally held data to reveal new opportunities to improve or change processes as well as tailor engagement that resonates with its intended audience. Data analysis also helps local authorities prioritise budgets and target service delivery different campaigns to meet the needs of their local communities.

Datasets like Acorn help local authorities understand their residents and service users better without knowing them personally. It provides insight about the demographic, lifestyle and behavioural characteristics of residents which helps to target those who could be encouraged to change their recycling habits, identifying factors that currently inhibit them from recycling and tackle them systematically. Tactics might include adapting services where necessary to meet needs, providing targeted, specific or translated guidance or offering direct door-stepping support.

Acorn also provides insight into contact, channel and marketing preferences. This can help reach consumers and local residents in a way that resonates to highlight their activities and initiatives, which in turn could support community-wide behaviour change.

Westminster City Council regularly conducts area-focussed door-knocking exercises and face-to-face surveys with thousands of residents, who are asked about their recycling behaviour and habits. By supplementing the survey results with CACI's Acorn data, Westminster can better understand more granular demographic details about its residents including their communications preferences and attitudes to current affairs.

 

Understanding lifestyles and behaviour helps local authorities influence people

Educating and engaging with residents and service users is vital to encourage behaviour change. Using lifestyle data, it’s possible to identify the most effective communications channels that will influence different community groups. As well as making sure key messages are received and understood, it can help reduce inefficiency and maximise value in communications. For example, avoid printing leaflets to distribute to households with greater affinity for mobile or digital communications: instead use text messages or online content.

There are always going to be community members who are either not willing or not able to change their behaviour. These groups are relatively small, but it’s important to understand this, so resources can be used effectively to create the greatest impact amongst groups who already recycle and could do more, or who could be encouraged to start recycling.

 

Continually improve your communications as well as your services

Relevant campaigns communicated to the right people in the right places can highlight the recycling challenges we face and why everyone’s recycling efforts matter. Measuring the effectiveness of campaigns and initiatives provides more insight to help evaluate and continually improve local authority recycling processes, their uptake and overall performance. 

 

Westminster City Council Waste & Recycling Case Study

Westminster City Council's recycling rate has remained stubbornly low in the London borough league table. Though the council remains committed to improving this, as well as its overall sustainability, the barriers to this are uniquely challenging for a local authority that oversees one million waste and recycling collections every week, with a significant proportion from businesses:

  • Strict heritage regulations limit the council's ability to modernise and transform older buildings' waste management systems
  • High population turnover makes it difficult to engage with residents
  • Dense urban living and small flats leave little room for storing recycling and general waste in separate bins
  • Security concerns for government and cultural sites preclude on-the-go recycling facilities
  • Westminster recognises that to effectively address these barriers, it must consider the wider urban system and various stakeholders’ roles in it.

Consequently, it has engaged extensively with businesses by working with BIDs on their waste consolidation and recycling outreach, promoting sustainable business behaviour, increasing recycling service provision for businesses, best practice guides, developing differential charging to encourage recycling service uptake and engaging with and lobbying central government (DEFRA).

For residents, Westminster has experimented with a variety of measures, which range from testing bin designs and incentive schemes and distributing newsletters and flyers, to more strategic measures such as generating behavioural insights and engaging with local community leaders and academic researchers. The council regularly conducts area-focussed door-knocking exercises and face-to-face surveys with 10,000 residents, who are asked about their recycling behaviour and habits. By supplementing the survey results with CACI's Acorn data, Westminster is able to better understand more granular demographic details about its residents such as their communications preferences and attitudes to current affairs.

Through the council's Recycling Champion scheme, members of local communities, supported by the council, volunteer to help their neighbours recycle more and waste less. As a result, champions have negotiated with local dry-cleaning businesses to accept and recycle customers' hangers and plastic wrap, and they have distributed blue recycling bags to residents who weren't initially using them.

Further, the council has started working closely with universities such as King's College London and University College London, whose students are developing tools to evidence residents' self-reported waste management behaviour to improve the council's data collection and analytics capabilities.

These activities form part of the council's wider programme of recycling improvement and behaviour change, and by targeting its efforts at different aspects of the wider system, Westminster can better understand what influences people's recycling behaviours and tailor its services to enable them to recycle more effectively.

 

For More Information

This is the third blog in our series of blogs looking beyond the Brexit agenda to spotlight the critical public sector issues that urgently need attention. If you missed the first two here are the links below:

Beyond the Brexit Bubble - Blog Series: Youth Violence and Knife Crime (Part 1)

Beyond the Brexit Bubble - Blog Series: Youth Violence and Knife Crime (Part 2)

If you’d like to augment your local knowledge to fill in gaps, support your field teams and target proactive and prevention campaigns more accurately, please get in touch with CACI’s local authority and police data specialists.

Our local authority blog series looks beyond the Brexit agenda to spotlight the critical public sector issues that urgently need attention, innovation and solutions, whatever the political agenda. Working with dedicated local authority organisations every day, we’re intent on supporting them to maintain their vital focus on vulnerable individuals and communities around the UK.

Beyond the Brexit Bubble - Blog Series: Waste & Recycling