Why communication is key to ensure upcoming legislation sticks



Ed Willmott, managing director of Prova, explores the waste management industry’s rapidly changing legislative landscape and explains the pivotal role of communication in driving long-term success.

Over the next few years, the waste management industry is set for widespread legislative change.

From the national roll-out of a highly functioning deposit return scheme (DRS) and phased implementation of extended producer responsibility (EPR) to the introduction of mandatory food waste collections and Simpler Recycling reforms, there’s a busy period ahead for regulators, producers, recyclers and the wider packaging supply chain.

Each of these progressive policies has the potential to positively change the face of the waste management industry and boost plateauing recycling rates. However, legislative change alone doesn’t guarantee immediate results. When it comes to smooth implementation and maximum impact, communication is key to driving engagement, buy-in and long-term behavioural change. 

Is communication that important to ensure legislative success?

Sustainable consumer behaviour

While change is essential to drive progress and momentum – especially when it comes to recycling rates – history tells us sometimes society can be resistant to change. We all find security in routine, comfort in repetition, and safety in the everyday.

When it comes to legislation, the picture is no different. Ensuring optimum results and achieving positive change is down to far more than simply “the stick” approach. Whether at a commercial or household level, communication is key to ensuring widespread buy-in.

Buy what does that mean in practice? What exactly needs to happen from a communications perspective and who is responsible for delivering it? What needs to be done in the short, medium and long term?

Well, let’s break it down. Firstly, we need to communicate effectively about upcoming changes and exactly what they will mean – both the challenges and opportunities presented. After all, while we within the waste management industry may understand the intricacies, the average Brit is unaware that many of these policies are even being discussed, let alone going to have an impact on their lives.

Whether at a commercial or household level, communication is key to ensuring widespread buy-in.

This requires collaboration from across the supply chain – from regulators and producers to retailers and recyclers. It’s up to all of us to take responsibility and maximise the opportunity for the greatest possible impact. It takes time and it costs money, but it’s an essential part of legislative change.

Next, we must assume that many new policies will experience teething issues. Whether technology, process or complexity, it’s unlikely that any new legislation will be adopted seamlessly from day one.

As a result, it’s almost a certainty that we need to be prepared for some level of resistance and push-back. Clear communication is essential to not only guide consumers through the evolving landscape but also explain the necessity for change. When things need adjusting, communication can prove the saving grace.

Finally, communication is imperative in the long term to ensure repetition and reinforcement of messages. After all, legislation is far from a green-button solution and maintaining engagement is just as important as initial education. 

This is exactly what we’re beginning to see with overall recycling rates. To counter this, we need constant, positive reminders – both in terms of best practice and demonstrations of impact. After all, we’re asking for behavioural change, but must appreciate that the “why” must also be answered. 

What are the risks of getting it wrong? 

Circular economy

The opportunity for upcoming waste management legislation to drive positive change, when it comes to national recycling rates, is once-in-a-generation.

If we get it right, we will achieve a far more logical, valuable, forward-thinking system that has the potential to capture higher volumes of better-quality recycling. If we get it wrong, however, we’ll likely be spending a lot of money to see recycling rates continue to stagnate, or even decline. 

Given the time and money already spent on planning, research and the consultation processes alone, we simply can’t afford to make mistakes. As such, we come back yet again to the importance of communication in making legislation stick first time. 

So, whether direct marketing materials to explain changes to weekly refuse collections, national TV advertising to explain the intricacies of DRS, direct correspondence to impacted businesses, or simply ensuring that the industry is front and centre of the media talking about best practice, it’s fair to say that a joined-up, collaborative approach is essential to make the most of the opportunity in front of us.

As new legislation looms, I’m calling for the industry to think positively about the opportunities in front of us, but also carefully about the importance of communication in delivering the best possible results.

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