Waste Service and Policy Implications

The London surveys provide important insights into the waste behaviour of households and identify ways in which people themselves think they can be motivated to change their habits. This was the primary purpose of the research. However, a number of implications for service interventions and for waste policy arise from the research. More than half of London households are most likely doing little or no recycling at present; only one in five households regularly recycles anything other than paper and glass; and minimisation is not on the agenda in most households. The scale of the challenge of meeting statutory recycling targets is thus clearly enormous. However, there were a number of positive signals from the survey. A majority - two-thirds of households - indicate that they could do more recycling, if provided with the right kind of help. Turning these good intentions into action will clearly be key to delivering more effective waste recovery. Before this can be done, however, policy makers and the waste industry will have to face up to some uncomfortable truths about people's attitudes and behaviour.

The surveys show that there are, as suspected, real differences between types of household in their commitment to recycling, and that these differences are associated with age and social class factors. A particularly difficult truth to face up to is that there is a resolute minority that refuses to recycle - amongst all social classes and age groups, but represented more strongly amongst 'socially excluded' households. To maximise the chances of engagement from the public, messages and interventions will need to be targeted differentially to appeal to the different values and motivations of different groups (an approach which may clearly be politically sensitive).

However, another important point to acknowledge is that, because of the way services are organised, recycling is made easiest for those who already have the greatest inclination to recycle - broadly middle class and older households - and hardest for those with the weakest motivation. Also unavoidable is the fact that many people, from all social backgrounds, are deeply distrustful of local Councils, and that people's experiences of other local authority services and the Council Tax are important barriers to them being able to think rationally about waste issues. The most important barrier, however, is undoubtedly the widespread perception that recycling (and minimisation) is difficult - meaning difficult to fit into my life rather than difficult to use in practice.

Making recycling more convenient will therefore be a primary requirement if recycling targets are to be met - including more kerbside provision and near home bring banks. Involving the customers (households) in debate about what provision is right for them will also be an important component of delivering services people want to use. However, delivering a larger number of services to more people will not be enough alone to secure as much action on recycling and minimisation as is required. Neither will simply telling people that services exist. People will need to be persuaded that recycling and minimisation are 'normal' things to do, not just a 'good' thing. They will also need to be persuaded that everyone is making an effort, so that participation is fair, and that local authorities are prepared to 'do their bit'. This means not only providing quality services but also being seen to do it - either by providing feedback or indirectly by the way in which services are delivered. Drawing on the experience of other situations where individuals and companies are being persuaded to adopt more sustainable behaviour suggests that building gradually on small 'successes', rather than attempting to engineer an immediate and giant leap, are more persuasive tactics.

Policy makers at local and London levels are well placed to smooth the required transformation in behaviour, including: co-ordinating and advertising the message; representing Londoners' views on packaging to producers; partnering the waste industry to overcome barriers on the ground; and generally to provide an arena for the exchange of best practice and experience. As regards financial incentives, our interpretation of the surveys is that London households on the whole are not yet ready for charging or direct financial incentives. This is not to say that those reward schemes that have been introduced in London and elsewhere are not useful, nor that they may not be influential once the majority has engaged with the idea of less waste, but simply that they may not be an immediate solution to transforming behaviour.

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