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14th September 2016

SUEZ and YouGov survey of Britain’s household recycling habits

Study reveals disconnect between how much British households think they recycle and how much they really do.

SUEZ, the national recycling and waste management company, today reveals a significant disconnect between how well the British public thinks they are recycling their household waste and actual recycling performance.

These findings, among many others, were derived from an online survey of British adults, which was commissioned by SUEZ, and conducted this summer by YouGov – who asked the adult populations of England, Scotland and Wales for their views on recycling, based on a demographically representative sample of more than 2,000 adults.

According to the poll, 38% of the population claim they recycle all of the waste in their household that they know they can recycle, while a further 41% of people reckon they recycle the vast majority. Furthermore, when individual respondents were asked what stops them recycling more than they currently do, nearly half (44%) said nothing in particular is stopping them from recycling more. Only 15% of people admitted to recycling half or less of everything they could, and 3% recycled nothing at all.

Each year, in England alone, households throw out over 27 million tonnes of refuse, of which around 45% is recycled – which begs the question – If most people are recycling the majority of everything that can be recycled, why is the national recycling figure not higher?

The recycling rate in England, which is the most populous country within the United Kingdom and therefore has the biggest impact on the waste statistics, began to flat-line in 2012/13 and actually fell by 0.7% to 44.3% for the 12 months to June 2015, according to the most up-to-date figures published by DEFRA. Wales’ household recycling rate, by comparison, stands at 56.2% as the leader among the home nations.

The findings of the SUEZ/YouGov survey reveal that, across the British public, those aged 45 and over tend to think they recycle more compared with the younger generation. Among 45 to 54 year olds, 41% claim they recycle all they can, which raises to 53% for those aged 55 and over, but falls as low as 15% for 18 to 24 year olds.41% of women claim to recycle all they can compared to just 34% of men (giving a national average of 38%).

There are also major discrepancies between the sexes, as to who thinks they put the bins out and who actually does. While nearly two thirds of men in a relationship (64%) claim it is their responsibility to put out the bins, only 38% of females in a relationship* said that their husband or male partners do this. Over a third of women in a relationship (36%) claim it is their job to put the bins out, but only 14% of males in a relationship said their wives or female partners do this.

The findings also revealed that 50% of the British public would support products having standardised packaging that is made from materials that can be widely recycled. Furthermore, when asked how effective certain initiatives for major manufacturers and retailers might be in reducing waste from product packaging, 57% thought a legal requirement to publish how much packaging they produce would be effective; 72% thought providing more on-pack recycling information and 69% said paying more tax on their packaging based on how much they produce would be effective ways of reducing waste from product packaging.

Suggested as one of several initiatives to help boost recycling rates, nearly half of the respondents (49%) also backed the idea of council tax reductions for households that recycle more and reduce their general waste, while 42% supported the idea of reward vouchers to spend in local shops.

Chief Executive Officer of SUEZ recycling and recovery UK, David Palmer-Jones said:
“Recycling performance in the UK has come on leaps and bounds over the last decade and it’s heartening to see, that there is still so much enthusiasm for it among the British public.

The national recycling figures confirm that actual recycling performance has plateaued at around 45 per cent of all household waste thrown away over the last few years – which could be explained by some of the findings of the SUEZ/YouGov survey which point to a disconnect between how much people think they are recycling and what they are really throwing away.

If, in total, nearly eight out of ten people think they are already recycling all, or at least the majority, of everything that can be recycled, then that may explain why many don’t see the need for further improvement.

It seems that when it comes to performance drivers, the public favours the carrot over the stick – with large support for ideas like council tax discounts and money back schemes for those who recycle well.

Perhaps it’s time to engage the public in more active ways, so that they become more individually invested in recycling performance rather than simply being told to recycle by industry and policy-makers because it’s the ‘right thing to do’. The findings of our research also show we all have more to do to engage the younger members of society and help them to become better and more enthusiastic recyclers, whilst also making existing collection schemes as easy to follow as possible.

While the national recycling rate represents a vast improvement on where we were ten years ago, improvement rates have stalled for the past few years and, in key parts of the country like London, are going into reverse. We are still sending millions of tonnes of really valuable recyclable material to landfill, rather than turning it into new things, simply because people have put it in their general rubbish bin instead of their recycling bin.

As an industry, working in partnership with manufacturers, retailers and local authorities, it is clear that we can all do more to inform the public about the materials in the products and packaging they consume, how they can be recycled and, importantly, what happens to them after are they are put into the bin.”

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