As we approach the 12th annual Recycle Week (22 to 28 June 2015), Copper’s Dan Sage takes a look at what the future holds for recycling communications in light of local authority budget savings.

When I’m among eminent industry colleagues discussing the latest issues affecting the waste and resources industry and “communications” is mentioned, it usually triggers a series of authoritative nods and choruses of agreement. Everyone recognises the need for effective communications to achieve their goals but financial and operational pressures often hinder this collective industry vision.

With so many challenges it’s not surprising that communications has slipped down the list of priorities within the waste and resources sector. CIWM/Ricardo AEA’s report shows that 69% of local authorities have had their department budgets cut. The Government is keen to reduce the budget deficit further leading to more significant budget reductions over the next few years. So surely this can only go in one direction? Is it doom and gloom – or simply an opportunity presenting itself?

As local authorities continue to identify efficiencies in waste collection and disposal, the need for effective communication prevails. Every non-participant in a street means vehicles are under-utilised; every item not recycled results in unnecessary landfill costs; and any misplaced items affect the quality of recycled materials.

We know people have a desire to recycle, but unguided this can result in higher rates of contamination. According to WRAP’s most recent 3Rs tracking survey three quarters of households could be recycling more or reducing their level of contamination. This is partially explained by a lack of knowledge about what can be collected for recycling in their local area. Solution? Better communications.

For example, Copper has been supporting Cory Environmental and Southend-on-Sea Borough Council to increase recycling by providing communication activities and behaviour change programmes. Complemented by well-established recycling services, effective communications has elevated recycling levels well beyond national trends. It has increased recycling by 18% in six years and reduced waste to landfill, with Southend reporting the 12th lowest waste to landfill rate per household in the country, whilst still offering a weekly residual black sack collection.

With budgets in short supply, the time is right to rethink how communications are delivered rather than whether they can be delivered. Rather than relying on the dwindling resources available within each authority, the alternative is a long term cross-boundary strategy. Using the knowledge and expertise gathered over the last 10+ years when investment in local authority infrastructure dramatically spiked recycling levels, a more harmonised approach can bring fresh thinking to boost recycling levels which have plateaued in recent years. By working together, local authorities can implement schemes and overarching communications campaigns that deliver consistent messages throughout the lifecycle – at the point of purchase, at reuse, at disposal – and bring a new impetus to changing our behaviour and the choices we make.

It means looking beyond the individual needs of each local authority to identify a joined up approach – regionally and even nationally. Harmonisation of schemes and communications campaigns will mean collection systems will be more efficient, the quality of recycled material will improve, budget savings can be achieved and in turn, it will help essential public services.

The potential to reap the benefits are indisputable. Increasingly, as resources become scarce and material value increases, brands will become more interested in the disposal of their packaging. Harmonisation can pave the way for a joined up product-led communication approach and take recycling to 70% and beyond – leading to a model where high value materials will be collected at source and the incentive-based schemes we’ve talked about for years will finally have arrived.