Features: August 30th, 2013

Re-cycling is big business and as attitudes have changed it has become a growing business. Although it makes economic sense it also particularly makes environmental sense. But re-cycling has not been so successful for those on the move. John Williamson suggests a strategy for street re-cycling to address this issue.

Recycling has made huge strides over the past decade with local authorities, businesses and individuals practising recycling as a matter of course. Councils across the UK have played an important role in establishing good recycling habits, from kerbside collection to recycling centres in public places. The introduction of various schemes and initiatives across Britain mark a fundamental shift in attitudes: from seeing waste as simply rubbish, to viewing it as something with real value. For example, the UK has recycled over 50 billion plastic drinks bottles as well as card, paper, plastic and glass worth £2.4 billion over the past decade.

However, whilst householders are becoming used to separate kerbside collections, there are fewer opportunities for people to recycle when out and about – a significant missed opportunity. An estimated 30 million tonnes of litter is collected from the streets of Britain each year, costing in excess of £850 million in council tax. According to the Land Environmental Quality Survey of England (LEQSE), the litter hotpots include many commercial and retail areas, as well as public open spaces.

Identifying areas of focus

Accordingly, recycling on the go, i.e. when people are out on the streets and in public places, has been identified by many local authorities as a particular area of focus, with Scotland making it a key part of their recycling strategy. Their government sponsored delivery body Zero Waste Scotland offers advice and support to public and private organisations, as well as running programmes and campaigns such as the Recycling on the Go scheme.

Launched in 2012, the scheme involves rolling out thousands of public recycling bins across the country, focusing on areas with high footfall such as shopping centres, transport hubs and leisure facilities. Legislation is also due to come into force from 2014 which will require all business to recycle with the aim of working towards zero landfill. By providing more convenient and easy to use recycling facilities in busy public places, local authorities can help boost recycling rates. Furthermore, if the government’s target of a 70% recycling rate by 2025 is reached, it is estimated that the Scottish economy could benefit by around £178 million.

Litter with value

One of the reasons that recycling on the go has been identified as an area of focus is because items like cans, bottles and newspapers, which have been identified by Keep Scotland Beautiful as some of the most common types of street litter, also have a high value when collected separately for recycling. For example, plastic bottles can be sold for over £190 per tonne. The key is to separate rubbish for recycling at the point of disposal as recyclable materials have no worth if collected in bins destined for landfill.
Managed by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) on behalf of the Scottish government, Zero Waste Scotland set aside £500,000 last year to provide more facilities for people to recycle when they are out on the street across Scotland. The Borders Council used their funding to locate 97 new recycling bins across the region, whilst bins have been located at a range of popular sites such as the Royal Commonwealth Pool in Edinburgh and Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Park.

Putting a strategy in place

However, for street recycling to work, any strategy needs to be carefully planned. It is important to start by evaluating current practice: what facilities are already in place? What is being collected and how? How are facilities being used and how will they integrate with new initiatives? The answers to all these questions should help to inform new policy and practice.

Purchasing appropriate bins is an important part of the process. The design, style, cost and number required are all key factors in making the right decision. Some organisations and councils have been inventive in their choice of bins. Liverpool City Council for example installed singing bins on the streets of the city in 2011 which sang a thank you message every time litter was deposited, whilst Drayton Manor theme park in the Midlands uses bins around the park and zoo shaped like penguins designed specifically to appeal to children.

Well-designed bins can also help reduce the contamination of waste intended for recycling. Clear signage is important, with apertures that clearly show which items should be deposited in which sections. One of our products, the Olympic Dual Bin which was used by several local authorities to reduce landfill during the 2012 Olympic Games, has two clearly delineated sections to ensure that people deposit their litter in the appropriate slot to avoid contamination: a green section for recyclable materials such as plastic bottles, newspapers, glass and cans, with a black section designed for items for incineration.

The Westminster example

With thousands of visitors daily, Westminster City Council has complex waste demands with high levels of street litter, including large volumes of free newspapers that are brought into the authority by commuters. The council has strict targets for recycling as part of their commitment to reducing the carbon footprint. “That’s why we have so many on the go bins and the free newspaper bins to capture it, because it’s such a large stream,” says Phil Robson, Westminster’s Supplier Relationship Manager (waste and recycling).

Having introduced their own On the Go recycling initiative, the authority has placed Olympic Dual recycling bins in specific litter hotspots in public areas. “Diversion from landfill of collected street litter recyclables is over 40% in most areas of the borough,” adds Phil. “This has enabled us to substantially increase the amount of rubbish we were able to recycle. In fact, Westminster was able to recycling in the region of an impressive 2,400 tonnes in 2010 from litter recycling bins alone.

Location, location, location

Finding the right location for recycling on the go bins is also crucial, with areas that have a high footfall taking priority. The bins need to be easily accessible and instantly recognisable, which can be achieved through consistency of design and branding. Councils can play a key part in this by liaising to ensure this consistency. WRAP research has concluded that people respond better to clearly labelled recycling units and supporting messages, so, good communication is essential: people need to know exactly what they can recycle and where. This can partially be achieved through clear signage as well as campaigns to publicise recycling initiatives, keeping the public informed of what is being done, why and where.

Ultimately, the success of recycling on the go is largely dependent on helping people to establish the right habits. This is best achieved through effective communication, sending clear, strong messages to the public as well as recognisable signposting and branding. Lastly, but not least, local authorities need to ensure that they have the right products in the right places. The key is, make it as easy as possible for people to recycle and if budget is an issue, remember that if collected properly, waste has significant value.

John Williamson is the Marketing Manager at Amberol, a family run company that develop, manufacture and supply a range of bins made from recyclable materials. Amberol aim to create products that will facilitate a cleaner, greener environment. For more information, visit www.amberol.co.uk or call 01773 830 930.