When people come to throw away an item, the first thought for many is “which bin does it go in?” Long gone are the days of putting everything 'in the bin'. All councils now offer households a range of recycling containers and collections, so that items can be more easily recovered and processed sustainably.
But we know that most people are regularly confused about what item goes where. Research in 2022 from RecycleNow, showed that 84% of households are contaminating their recycling through well-intended ‘wish cycling’.
So how should councils help their residents to recycle right?
The answer for many councils is a page or series of pages on their website with a list of items that should be put into each container. With waste and recycling topping the list of reasons that citizens visit council websites, links to these pages are often high profile on the homepage. But do these pages actually deliver the outcomes that councils are hoping for?
There are two main reasons councils want to share this information on the website.
The first of course is to educate residents. By helping people understand where best to place each item, the waste and recycling team can increase the amount of material collected, and importantly, reduce the contamination of their recycling streams to help them achieve the maximum income from the sale of their recyclates.
Secondly, councils want to reduce the number of calls they must manage through their call centres. With the cost of handling a call to the contact centre estimated at around £3 and a high volume of calls to councils regarding waste and recycling, being able to divert citizens to a digital self-serve channel offers the potential for councils to cut much needed costs.
When we talk to recycling officers and communications teams at local authorities we often find the following limitations of static web pages and leaflets, which ultimately result in not achieving the results and outcomes that the council is hoping for.
Not enough details on items
When people come to throw away an item, they often don’t know how another person might describe it. A pharmacist may be familiar with the term ‘blister pack’ for a container for tablets and medications, many of your residents probably less so. And if they can’t find the answer quickly, they will probably give up.
Too many pages to navigate
In an attempt to offer more detail, some councils create a series of pages for residents to navigate. Users select a category of item, which then takes them to another page with a subset of items to choose from. Even if someone was to know the correct categories for their items, the number of clicks this requires will put many people off. For those that don’t immediately choose the right category page, the amount of user frustration and friction will be too much for almost all.
Not household specific
One of the biggest issues with ‘How to Recycle’ web pages is that they don’t provide householders with information specific to their property. Different property types, such as houses and flats, will often have different recycling collections. Different areas may also require different arrangements. The one size fits all approach of an item list on your website will lead some residents down the wrong track and result in the wrong materials ending up in the wrong recycling streams. Look up searches based on addresses or postcodes offer a much better solution, where individual properties can be given specific and comprehensive information quickly to help them make a good choice as they dispose of their item.
No information on where to recycle
It’s often the case that an item can’t be recycled in the kerbside collection. Telling people how and where they can properly dispose of an item is key to changing behaviour and keeping problem items (such as medicines, textiles and nappies) out of kerbside collections. Web pages will often provide general information, such as to take an item to a supermarket or pharmacy, but without providing information about the closest such location and opening hours.
Not regularly updated
Managing council website pages will most often be done by the IT team. When changes are needed a request will need to be made by the waste and recycling team. While this may work for larger changes and communication roll-outs, the inevitable regular updates that come with managing a list of hundreds of materials and items will often fall by the wayside. As a result, website pages quickly become out of date, and residents are incorrectly advised of how to dispose of their item.
Doesn’t provide data on behaviour and challenges
And last but not least is data. One of the fundamentals of an education and communication programme is understanding your audience and what are their challenges. Without data on which items your citizens are struggling to recycle, and which areas have greatest demand, it’s impossible for recycling officers to target effective outreach and education. The result is generally one-size fits all communication programmes, guided at best by national data and at worst by guesswork, that don’t have the impact and engagement to achieve meaningful behaviour change from residents.
A better way
So if ‘How to Recycle’ web pages aren’t the best way to educate citizens, how can local authorities achieve better results?
We believe the answer is with modern, interactive tools and apps. Our digital web tools work differently and provide citizens with more useful information in an easier to use format.
Some the key features that make it easier for residents include: