Manufacturers and not taxpayers should bear the cost of the recycling waste and returning it to the circular economy. That’s the view of British consumers according to a YouGov poll commissioned by UK recycling company Viridor.
Viridor’s Recycling Index, which has been tracking public attitudes to recycling for five years, found 67% of those polled believe that taxpayers currently carry the cost of recycling, with 64% (up from 56% last year) saying that producers/manufacturers should pick up the bill. The index found that 55% thought that businesses selling these products should be accountable, with 41% calling on the Government to contribute to recycling costs.
The 2016 Viridor Recycling Index found that consumers expected that 79% of waste should be recycled by 2021 but only 64% believed this was achievable by next year demonstrating the gulf between the ambition consumers have for recycling and the expectation of what can be realistically accomplished.
Current recycling in the UK stands at 45% but more than half (52.5%) polled in the 2020 Viridor Recycling Index said they wanted to see 100% of plastic packaging made from recycled material by 2030.
Viridor CEO Phil Piddington said: “Viridor has been listening to consumer attitudes to recycling for five years and applying the lessons we’ve learnt to the way we run our business. The concept of extended producer responsibility, or producer pays, has been a key component of our input to government on the future of recycling.
“Viridor also supports the Treasury’s Plastic Tax, proposed for 2022, which would tax all plastic packaging with less than 30% recycled content. This, along with extended producer responsibility, more standardised local government collections and clearer labelling which helps consumers to do the right thing and recycle more, reflects our response to five years of commissioning the Viridor Recycling Index. These messages have come out loud and clear from the UK public.”
Mr Piddington said legislative change, such as the plastics tax, was crucial to underpin the infrastructure investment needed to help the UK recycle more at home.
He said: “Like the public we think that the producers should bear the cost of recycling because it’s important to take responsibility for everything we produce but also because this will be a powerful motivating factor influencing product design. Viridor has always been very clear that the key to empowering the circular economy is ensuring that everything we produce is designed with recycling in mind. That’s why Viridor was a founding member of WRAP’s Plastic Pact, working with cross-sector partners to achieve the pact’s 2025 recyclability goals.”
Mr Piddington said the company’s investment in plastic reprocessing capacity was the key to ending the export of recyclable plastic.
He said: “Our index tells us that more than half of those polled (56.1%) think that none of the UK’s plastic waste should be exported. In addition to our specialised plastics recycling and reprocessing facilities at Rochester in Kent and Skelmersdale in Lancashire, we are building a £65m plastics reprocessing plant in Avonmouth, near Bristol, which will draw the heat and power it requires from a co-located energy recovery facility. This demonstrates that we can use non-recyclable waste to power a recycling facility and return more plastic to the circular economy. We will also be able to stop the export of recyclable plastic Viridor receives with the successful commissioning of the Avonmouth plant in 2020-21 financial year because we will have created the reprocessing capacity we need for plastic here in the UK.”
The increase in single-use products amid the COVID-19 pandemic has not had a negative impact on attitudes to recycling, with 51% saying this had made it more important to find recycling solutions for all materials, 34% suggesting energy recovery was the best solution for these products and only 13% suggesting recycling was of secondary importance for the time being.
UK consumers also demonstrated they care about recycling, with 75% saying they would be more encouraged to recycle if they knew what happened to their waste when it was recycled, with the same number saying they would be influenced by a greater awareness about how recycling was having an impact on the wider environment.
With an increasing focus on returning products to the circular economy, and using recycled material over virgin plastic, the poll revealed that almost nine in 10 said they would still buy their regular products if the packaging changed to reflect different coloured/recycled plastic (85%) or a different material (85%). However, they were not inclined to pay more for products made from recycled materials, with 42.2% unwilling to pay a penny more, 31.7% agreeing to pay 10% extra and 9.1% willing to pay 20% or more.
Viridor’s Recycling Index reveals that the UK is still not being clear in its message to consumers, with a growing number finding it difficult to understand what is recyclable (plastic wrapping - from 27.5% in 2016 to 52.5% in 2020).
And asked about what would encourage them to recycle more of their household waste, this year 83% said a major motivator would be if the recycling system was easier and simpler to use. This was up from 69% when Viridor initiated the recycling index in 2016.
Consumers want to see greater standardising of recycling instructions on packaging (66%, up from 48% last year) and, while 73% said they understood what Viridor’s message of “Right Stuff, Right Bin” meant, only 54% felt they were provided with enough information on how and what to recycle.
A further challenge for consumers is on-the-go recycling. The survey recorded confusion from residents when they were asked how easy it was to recycle when they were not at home - plastic drink bottles (46% down from 52% last year), paper cups (38% down from 53%), plastic cups (28% down from 40%), food packaging including sandwich wrappers and pasta boxes (23% down from 34%) and glass drinks bottles (45% down from 57%).
The Viridor poll showed that labelling continues to be a stumbling block. Although 38% said they frequently noticed recycled signs on packaging, only 9% found the labelling very easy to understand.
Consistent UK recycling collection systems were also valued by the public, with 76.6%, up from 66% in 2016, advocating a change which incorporated the same colour bins for recycling across UK local authorities.
For waste which cannot be recycled, 87.4% up from 85% in 2016, believed that energy recovery, which uses non-recyclable waste to generate heat and power, remained the favoured option.