Wasteful words

A 2023 National Audit Office report found that household recycling rates in England have stalled since 2011/12, with a national target of recycling 50 per cent of household waste by 2020 missed and recycling rates stagnating at 43-44 per cent.

At Keep Britain Tidy, we believe we urgently need to shift mindsets and make reuse and consumption reduction a social norm – and how we talk about waste is key to doing this.

Our research indicates that the public still largely defaults to recycling, and lacks understanding that this is only the third-best option – behind reducing and reusing.

There is also confusion surrounding ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’, with almost a third of people (30 per cent) feeling that these commonly used terms are interchangeable.

We have come up with a newly designed and tested version of the waste ‘hierarchy’ (see graphic) as part of fresh, practical and evidence-based guidance to help councils and industry better educate the public about waste prevention and mindful consumption.

Our new hierarchy features logically grouped levels and more detailed descriptors than the catch-all ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ – such as ‘have a “buy less” mindset’ and ‘use it again and again’. 

It is also highly visual, with images and symbols suggesting types of items and behaviours to consider.

After seeing the new hierarchy, 71 per cent of research participants said it was clear what it was asking them to do, 58 per cent recognised better ways to minimise their environmental footprint beyond recycling, and 51 per cent felt motivated to protect the planet.

Embracing better, insight-led communications such as this new waste hierarchy is an essential piece of the puzzle if we are to engage the public on waste prevention, encourage ‘reduce and reuse’ behaviours, and, ultimately, accelerate the UK’s transition to a circular economy.

 Keep Britain Tidy’s waste hierarchy and other resources are available to download at www.keepbritaintidy.org


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