Recycling – Where Are The Pedals?

Rehman-SaeefarSaeefar Rehman, associate director, energy and environment for Grant Thornton UK, looks at the varying levels of recycling across the UK and attempts to explain the reasons behind it…


Image courtesy of WRAP
Image courtesy of WRAP

The variations in recycling levels across local authorities in the UK are no secret. However, if you query what drives this disparity then the answers are varied and not definitive. Some of the reasons would seem obvious, such as the frequency of collection, but are there more direct links between them?

As part of an exercise to explore this issue we used our Grant Thornton Place Analytics database to extract several indicators regarding geography and demographic to undertake some high level analysis. The objective? To identify trends and the potential reasons behind the varying levels of success achieved by the authorities with their recycling schemes. Using the “Lets Recycle” ranking, the authorities’ recycling rate and the services provided by each, we assessed the top 10 local authorities in terms of recycling levels, and 10 other local authorities with recycling rates c40%.

One of the key questions explored was whether the frequency of collection and service charges had any link to recycling levels. The answer was… no. Of the top 10 local authorities, in terms of recycling, there was a split in whether green waste was collected weekly or fortnightly. There were also disparities in whether there was a charge for green bin services. What was evident however was that food waste collection was usually weekly.

There was also no consensus as to whether the introduction of a service charge would impact recycling levels. This has been demonstrated most significantly by the recent policy changes at some local authorities, such as Flintshire County Council, Wyre Council and Hambleton District Council. The political aspects and public acceptance of course are another issue.

There must therefore be some other factors that have a more direct impact on recycling rates. In terms of assessing the potential underlying factors the metrics covered were: age, dependency ratio, occupation, level of education, employment, tenancy rate, owner occupancy rate, population density and council tax bands.

Population Density

Seven out of the top nine authorities had a population density of less than 10 residents per hectare, with five at less than six residents per hectare. In contrast seven of the 10 local authorities with recycling rates of c40% had a population density of 18 or over per hectare. A lower density could be indicative of a greater number of agricultural workers who are more closely engaged with environmental management tasks and therefore more likely to have awareness of environmental issues.

House Bandings

On average in the top recycling districts, 30% of the houses were categorised in the top four council tax bands, E-H, indicating greater affluence in these areas. The 10 local authorities with recycling levels of c40% on average had 14% of homes ranked between E-H. We used council tax bands as an indicator as it highlights the proportion of premium housing in the area, as opposed to the current monetary value of the properties. This mitigates the disparity between different local housing markets.

Education/Occupation/Employment/Home Ownership

The top 10 local authorities all had higher proportions for these factors in their population compared to the 10 local authorities with recycling levels c40%. However, whereas the disparity was only marginal for full time employment (2%), and slightly more for levels of education (6%), the greatest difference lay in occupation (professional and managerial positions) and home ownership, where the difference was 10%.

What is evident from this is that whilst the availability of services and infrastructure are necessary to enable the population to engage, the driving factors are linked to the demographics of the population.


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