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Groundbreaking NLWA research suggests targeted approach could increase recycling

Jun 13, 2013
The recycling behaviours of north Londoners have been revealed in new research published today by North London Waste Authority.

The detailed qualitative research, carried out by M.E.L Research, covered residents of the seven north London boroughs and looked at what motivates them to recycle, and what the barriers are that stop them recycling. 

The research, which builds on WRAP’s ‘committed recycler’ levels research and subsequent segmentation of recycling behaviours, was carried out between December 2012 and April 2013. The work explored the recycling attitudes and behaviour of north London residents and how communication, education and engagement might encourage people to recycle more.

Councillor Clyde Loakes, chair, NLWA, said: “As recycle week celebrates its tenth anniversary this June, NLWA is even more determined to support north London residents to recycle all they can to make sure we hit our 50 per cent target by 2020.

“Our research suggests that some residents don’t recycle all the materials they could and they don’t recycle consistently, so there are big gains to be made here. We know these residents want to be seen as recyclers - and they want to make a difference - so our communications activity this year will focus on providing them with practical advice and support to show them how easy it is to do more.”

M.E.L Research categorised residents according to how much they recycle – ranging from ‘aware but inactive’ and ‘contemplated but not engaged’ through ‘intermittent’ and ‘trying their best’ to ‘broadly competent’. The findings from the research showed that the barriers to recycling vary and that tailored communications and engagement activity could help overcome these barriers.

For example the research concluded that ‘intermittent’ recyclers may be less likely to have an effective in-house recycling system for storing recycling than more committed groups. Typically only one person in the household is also responsible for recycling rather than the whole household sharing the responsibility. As a result local authority communications for this group will be most effective if they focus on providing advice about in-house recycling systems and providing practical tips and support for organising recycling in the home as well as encouraging the whole household to take part. For other groups perceptions of neighbours’ recycling habits were key. Where these residents believe that others are not recycling properly they may be more demotivated than other groups. Accordingly group communications and particularly face-to-face communication would work well with this group. Pride of place was a theme that ran across all the groups, as did a perception that a litter-free environment and effective recycling go hand in hand. 

The findings suggested that while individual councils are best placed to carry out ‘on the ground’ engagement work, waste disposal authorities (WDAs) can make big gains in recycling rates by carrying out area-wide communications activity. The research also made clear that different tactics and messaging are needed for different groups – depending on how engaged in recycling different residents are.

And while traditionally council and WDA communications have focused on converting non-recyclers, the research suggested that bigger gains could be made in targeting those residents who are already engaged in recycling but who could do better.

The results of the research are being used to inform and shape NLWA’s 2013/14 communications campaign to increase household recycling levels. NLWA and the seven north London boroughs have a shared target to increase recycling from the current rate of 30 to 50 per cent by 2020. One of the key campaign messages is about explaining to residents that recycling waste is much cheaper than sending it to landfill (in north London three times cheaper), which makes more money available for valuable local services.

This year NLWA will be focusing its communications activity on those recyclers who fall in to the ‘intermittent’ and ‘trying their best’ groups – people who only recycle some things some of the time. The research suggested that these groups would respond well to motivational communications that provide feedback on their recycling performance and which provide specific, practical tips and incentives to recycle. 

A copy of the research can be downloaded here.


Notes to editors

  1. NLWA is made up of the London Boroughs of Barnet, Camden, Enfield, Hackney, Haringey, Islington and Waltham Forest.
  2. Around 700,000 tonnes of waste is collected from households in north London. At the moment around 30% of that waste is reused, recycled or composted.
  3. The key themes of the research findings were:
    - Intention to recycle impeded by (perception of) service provision
    - Awareness and perception of neighbours’ recycling habits
    - Jealousy over service provision outside London
    - Responsibility for recycling within the household
    - Presence or absence of recycling systems within the home
    - Association of recycling with clean and well-kept neighbourhoods
  4. The research involved a telephone screener survey to recruit focus group participants and respondents who were then segmented according to WRAP’s recycling competence segmentation. A proportion of the respondents were then invited to take part in 11 focus groups, which spanned the recycling competence groups. The focus groups were supplemented with one-to-one interviews with members of selected minority communities - Turkish, Somali, Jewish and student residents in the area.
  5. For more information, please contact Hannah Paten, communications manager, on 020 8489 4360 or
  6. M•E•L Research is a research and consultancy practice based in Birmingham, specialising in public and third sector clients.  For more information please contact Ian Stone, Research Manager, on 0121 604 4664, or email