Keep Britain Tidy unveils a new version of the waste hierarchy


Environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy (KBT) has unveiled a new version of the waste hierarchy as part of fresh guidance that aims to help the industry communicate “effectively and consistently” about waste prevention and accelerate the UK’s transition to a circular economy.  

The charity is recommending the widespread use of its newly designed hierarchy, which has been informed by user-tested research insights, emphasises the importance of mindful consumption and has been shown to better educate the public about waste prevention. 

Its research report, which was made possible thanks to CIWM, Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Merseyside Recycling and Waste Authority, SUEZ Recycling and Recovery UK, as well as players of People’s Postcode Lottery, indicates the public still largely defaults to recycling and lacks understanding that it is only the third best option (behind reduce and reuse) in the waste hierarches currently in use.

Embracing better, insight-led communications like this new waste hierarchy is an essential piece of the puzzle as it will have a significant bearing on how widely adopted reduce and reuse behaviour become. 

It suggests there is confusion surrounding the commonly used terms ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’, with almost a third of people (30%) feeling the terms are interchangeable. 

The updated hierarchy features what KBT calls “logically grouped levels”, more detailed descriptors than catchall reduce, reuse and recycle terms and is highly visual, with images and symbols suggesting types of items and behaviours to consider.

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

Bringing together insights from desk research, focus groups and a YouGov survey, the report urges the industry to speak with one voice and advises the following: 

1-Adapt to the current backdrop   

Keep Britain Tidy’s research shows people want to hear more about how they can reduce waste and consumption; 71% of those surveyed agree there should be less advertising and more information about how to make changes to the things they buy to reduce their environmental impact. However, amid a sea of high-budget consumer marketing campaigns, it is vital the industry collaborates and that consistent communication comes from a multitude of sources to cut through the noise.  

2-Avoid ‘catchall’ terms and use everyday language  

Keep Britain Tidy recommends avoiding ‘catchall’ terms like ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ and instead suggests highlighting specific behaviours; for instance, refer to using a recycling bin, rather than just recycling. The charity also advises communicating in succinct, everyday language and using phrases like ‘throw away’ instead of waste sector jargon like ‘dispose’. In all communications, the focus should be on guiding the public to rethink their decisions around the things they buy and use, not just what they throw away and how.  

3-Frame messages effectively 

While asking the public to ‘buy less, reuse and repair’ presents more challenges than ‘consume and recycle’, effective framing can help successfully convey the message. Keep Britain Tidy’s research reveals that a way to do this is to underline why people need to make changes to the things they buy, use and throw away and bring to life the end goal. Across all messaging it is vital that the public’s existing efforts to reduce waste are acknowledged and celebrated to help motivate them and encourage further positive waste behaviours. 

4-Choose the right messengers  

Almost half (47%) of the UK public want to hear information relating to waste prevention from their immediate social networks, their friends and family. While the government has a key role to play (32%), charities (41%) and local councils (38%), are also vital in positively influencing people’s behaviour. The research reveals information on waste prevention needs to come top-down from multiple trusted, transparent sources that the public feel have good, genuine intentions to make a difference.  People also want to receive communications at a community level so harnessing the power of local groups, organisations and social networks is important.  

Allison Ogden-Newton OBE, Chief Executive of Keep Britain Tidy said: “We have made a lot of progress by emphasising the recycling part of the waste hierarchy. But we can’t just recycle our way out of the climate emergency; we urgently need to shift mindsets and make reuse and consumption reduction a social norm.   

“Embracing better, insight-led communications like this new waste hierarchy is an essential piece of the puzzle as it will have a significant bearing on how widely adopted reduce and reuse behaviour become.  We urge practitioners across the industry to follow our new guidance and, vitally, to come together to tackle the issue.” 

A free webinar will take place on Tuesday 5 March to discuss the findings and insights from the report and what this means for the waste sector. To register, visit here.

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