Keep Britain Tidy calls for action to move people onto waste prevention


New research from environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy says a “major barrier” to driving urgently needed waste reduction and reuse behaviours is a “fundamental misunderstanding” amongst the public of what waste prevention means.

The charity says that, while recycling should not be discouraged, policy-makers and practitioners should work together to educate and motivate people to move beyond recycling and make choices that reduce the environmental impact of what they purchase in the first place.

Keep Britain Tidy says that in the absence of meaningful progress at government level on waste prevention or steps to bring down resource use, the charity has launched a new report for waste management and sustainable consumption policy-makers and behaviour change practitioners to “ignite debate” on waste prevention barriers and prompt urgent action.

Bringing together quantitative surveys, focus groups and an ethnographic study, Keep Britain Tidy says the report reveals key insights about the public’s waste prevention knowledge gaps and their attitudes to waste.

The report, “Shifting the Public’s Focus from Recycling to Waste Prevention: How do we move people up the waste hierarchy?”, shows the respondents had a lack of understanding about the waste hierarchy.

In the charity’s national survey, when presented with a visual representation and explanation of the waste hierarchy, 55% agreed that they now have a better understanding of how waste should be dealt with to minimise its environmental impact.

This is just the beginning and we invite other organisations to collaborate with us, debate and share evidence to take this agenda forward.

Amongst the report’s findings were most people engage in some waste prevention behaviours but not necessarily extensively, associate waste more with what they throw away than with what they buy and think of “wasting better” rather than “wasting less”.

Keep Britain Tidy says this confirms a “fundamental misunderstanding” of the waste hierarchy, where waste is seen as something to be “managed” rather than prevented. This lack of knowledge is a significant, but overlooked, barrier to the take-up of waste prevention behaviours, which needs to be addressed, the charity contends.

Commenting on the report, Allison Ogden-Newton OBE, Chief Executive of Keep Britain Tidy, said: “We urgently need to see a widespread adoption of waste prevention behaviours to help bring natural resource use and carbon emissions down to environmentally sustainable levels. Moving people up the waste hierarchy, from recycling to waste prevention, is a huge challenge when our current systems are geared towards increased consumption of resources.

Ogden-Newton continued that while government waste prevention policies are continuously delayed, the onus is on practitioners to drive behaviour change. She says this includes NGOs working on all aspects of “reduce, reuse, recycle” and sustainable consumption and also local authorities as people’s “most prominent source of information” about recycling.

Collectively, Ogden-Newton says we have to attempt to counteract the marketing messages that people are bombarded with that continually push them to buy more stuff.

“Learnings from our first Buy Nothing New Month campaign, launched this week, will help develop the evidence base around how to help people move up the waste hierarchy to buying less stuff and maximising the life of stuff that already exists. This is just the beginning and we invite other organisations to collaborate with us, debate and share evidence to take this agenda forward.”

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