Why education is key to building consumer confidence in recycling

Tom Giddings, general manager of Alupro, discusses the findings of a recent survey carried out by the Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment (INCPEN) and explains why better education is pivotal to building public confidence in recycling.

INCPEN recently published the results of a highly insightful consumer research survey investigating the key drivers of public confidence in recycling.

The results highlighted that having a reliable kerbside collection service and seeing other households recycling effectively resulted in high public confidence, while a lack of information regarding what happens to recyclable material after its collection resulted in low public confidence.

The biggest challenge seems to be building public confidence in the fact that recyclable material, once collected, actually is recycled

On-the-whole, consumers felt more confident about kerbside collections actually being recycled compared to on-street collections. In addition, residents in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland were more confident about their recyclables being reprocessed to create new products than their English counterparts.

However, with the UK’s recycling rate stagnating and increasing focus being placed on initiatives to kick-start positive consumer behaviour, will addressing consumer perceptions help to increase national recycling rates? In short, the answer is yes. But it’s important to understand the reasons behind this.

Aluminium packaging recycling hits record-breaking results

When it comes to aluminium packaging recycling rates, the UK continues to perform admirably. Between January and September 2021, more than 121,277 tonnes were collected for recycling. This is yet another year-on-year increase in volumes (9%) and very pleasing news indeed for the sector.

While many suggested that high collection volumes experienced in 2020 were a direct result of COVID-19 lockdowns and more people working from home (rather than consuming products on-the-go), data highlights that positive recycling behaviours have continued despite the easing of restrictions. But why is this?

In my opinion, when it comes to aluminium, it is easier to follow the journey of spent packaging after it’s separated for recycling. Indeed, the process is simple, clear and well documented – from recycling collections to being back on the supermarket shelf in just a few weeks.

When it comes to aluminium, it is easier to follow the journey of spent packaging after it’s separated for recycling

What’s more, rather than being shipped across the globe, thanks to its intrinsically high value and widespread use as an infinitely circular packaging material, a high percentage is responsibly reprocessed within the UK and Europe (86% of all material collected). Even the fraction of aluminium packaging that escapes recycling collections and ends up in energy from waste (EfW) facilities can be recovered to create new products.

The data is well publicised, the information is accurate and the supply chain is transparent, which results in better engagement and more effective recycling rates – the circle is self-perpetuating.

Education is key to kick-starting recycling rates

The challenge, for the entire supply chain, is to improve education about the recycling process. Rather than expecting householders to understand the intricacies of post-kerbside collections, we need to drive the conversation and provide the required information.

After all, the biggest challenge seems to be building public confidence in the fact that recyclable material, once collected, actually is recycled. When it comes to aluminium packaging, this is absolutely the case. Indeed, data suggests that 75% of all aluminium ever manufactured is still in the value chain.

As such, Alupro continues to invest heavily in educating the public. Through our consumer engagement programmes – Every Can Counts and MetalMatters – we connect with millions of consumers every year to explain the benefits of recycling and reassure them about the process; from collection to reprocessing. We welcome new partners to help us communicate the message of aluminium recycling to even more householders nationwide.

So, while consumers should have high confidence about recycling, the industry has a real job to do when it comes to building trust, addressing misconceptions and educating consumers. If we can build this confidence, we can achieve better engagement rates and higher recycling rates. This said, it’s a task for the entire supply chain to tackle – collaboration is key!

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