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Why a lack of transparency and trust is hindering the recycling efforts of 39 per cent of the UK

  • Written by  Daphna Nissenbaum, CEO of TIPA
  • Published in Opinions
Why a lack of transparency and trust is hindering the recycling efforts of 39 per cent of the UK
17 Dec
2019
Daphna Nissenbaum, CEO and co-founder of TIPA, argues that clearer messages in regards to waste disposal are vital in getting the country’s recycling rates to rise

This year marks the third consecutive year of reductions in the number of people who regularly donate money to charities in the UK. Considering in 2015, a report by True and Fair Foundation revealed one-in-five charities spend less than half their income on good causes, the decline is hardly surprising. As a sector which requires the trust of the public to succeed, the lack of financial transparency exposed more than a decade ago caused shock waves which are still impacting public perceptions of charities. The public still feel misled. The lack of transparency of the third sector has been to its great detriment.

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Problems surrounding a lack of transparency are not the only thing inhibiting trust in the third sector. A lack of clarity, openness and education about Britain’s recycling infrastructure and where recycling goes is equally problematic. As a global society we are increasingly concerned about the mountain of evidence highlighting environmental damage. Almost half of 18-to-24-year-olds have placed environmental issues as one of the UK’s three most pressing concerns. Yet for a nation that wants to be better educated on how it can live a more sustainable life, there is a distinct lack of trust in the system.

With distrust comes disillusion. According to research from Viridor, only one-in-ten Britons trust the government to ensure waste is recycled properly. A mere one-in-three are very confident they put waste in the right bins and a sizable 39 per cent of the UK believes its separated general and recyclable waste all goes to the same place. Questions around how to recycle properly, how to buy sustainably packaged products and where recycling ends up, cloud an understanding of the system.

The packaging industry is ever evolving. In recent years, innovation to create packaging that has an end of life cycle has flourished with alternatives to plastic more readily available than ever before. However, with the advancement in viable alternatives to plastic comes a required increase in methods of ensuring the packaging is recycled correctly. Yet, despite strategies that encourage the public to buy alternative materials, improvements to the UK’s recycling processes are moving at a snail’s pace.

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The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is currently in the process of reviewing its resources and waste strategy which outlines how England will move towards a circular economy. The re-assessment of this strategy presents a clear opportunity to adapt and advance the present recycling infrastructure and overhaul a system which is outdated compared to innovation in the field. Some 400,000 tonnes of plastic in the form of film and flexible packaging, the weight of 2,000 adult blue whales, is used every year in the UK. Only four per cent is recycled. In spite of this, the government’s new recycling strategy has not outlined any targets that address this challenge. The UK needs to consider a holistic method of recycling which allows for innovative materials to replace film and flexible packaging that can be recycled effectively.

Just as some of Britain’s largest charities have had to rebuild consumer trust, the government needs to increase recycling transparency. The UK is in a crucial period in which the willingness to recycle has never been higher yet distrust in the current system risks derailing recycling efforts. The public are drastically changing how they consume to minimise landfill waste, yet the gap between public expectation and trust in the government to recycle properly is widening and will continue to rise unless immediate action is taken.

Daphna Nissenbaum is the CEO and co-founder of TIPA, a compostable packaging solution

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