British consumers admit confusion over recycling


Plastic wrapping, mobile phones and disposable coffee cups top the list of items people are uncertain about, poll finds.

British consumers admit that they are confused about exactly what household waste they can recycle, a new poll reveals, with plastic wrapping, mobile phones and disposable coffee cups at the top of their list.

Frustrated by what they can and can’t recycle, 63% of householders are puzzled that different councils collect waste in different ways – for example, using different colour bins – while 43% say they are not sure which days to put their bins out.

Nearly three-quarters (73%) said they would welcome more transparency about what happens to their waste, according to the survey of 1,500 adults, by waste management company Viridor. It found there was generally low public trust in local authorities which oversee collection facilities.

Dan Cooke, director of external affairs at Viridor, said: “People across the UK want to recycle more, and recognise the importance of doing so, but they need better systems and support to ensure the right stuff goes in the right bin every time.

“We believe that greater transparency in the recycling and waste sector is crucial to rebuilding confidence with UK consumers to support them with recycling.”

The poll revealed that UK consumers believe that in five years’ time up to 64% of household waste can be recycled, compared with current recycling levels of around 44.3% in England.

Consumers said they were generally confused about whether they could recycle thin plastic wrapping (56%), mobile phones (52%) and disposable coffee cups (51%) although crisp packets and lightbulbs also ranked highly among their concerns.

It emerged earlier this year that only around one in 400 coffee cups are recycled, with the rest sent to landfill. The BBC recently reported on a huge rise in the amount of material put out for recycling being rejected because it is contaminated.

The British Retail Consortium, the trade body for UK retailers, said new labelling would help consumers work out what could be recycled and what cannot.

“Encouraging householders to put packaging in the right bin is fundamental to maximising recycling and minimising costly contamination” said Lee Marshall, board member of the On-Pack Recycling Label. “The labels give people the right nudge as they dispose of packaging. Linking local collection services to the labels people see on packaging will help councils increase recycling rates, avoid costly landfill taxes and reduce rejection rates at recycling plants.”

Cooke said the UK’s recycling policy remained “largely based on outdated assumptions” and called on the government and local authorities to come up with new and ambitious thinking “that moves recycling, recovery and resource management closer to the needs of consumers and to a more productive economy.”

A spokesman for the Local Government Association said: “In the past decade, councils and residents have worked together to radically increase recycling and divert millions of tonnes of waste from landfill.

“The problem is there is widespread confusion over what can and cannot be recycled. If just one non-recyclable item is included with recyclable items, the whole bin is effectively contaminated. Councils then have to re-sort it, which is time consuming and very expensive.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution to waste collection. What works in an inner-city suburb won’t necessarily work in the countryside.”

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