Compulsory recycling

Recycling advisor speaking to residentWhat is the issue?

Millions now put their recycling out on a regular basis, reflected in a more than four-fold increase in the UK recycling rate over the last ten years. But this encouraging picture is tempered by a significant minority who do not recycle.

Non-recyclers are a growing headache for local authorities seeking to wring ever higher levels of tonnage from recycling schemes while operating on ever tighter budgets, and they are looking for new cost-effective ways to encourage their more resistant residents to start recycling.

One approach is to make recycling compulsory, possible under provisions in the Environmental Protection Act (1990). Although the exact method can vary between councils, it generally means monitoring kerbside recycling schemes and ultimately prosecuting those who do not recycle. Such schemes are used at present in several London Boroughs and more are planning to introduce similar systems. There are yet to be any prosecutions.

Supporters of this approach point to impressive results - Barnet saw a 28% increase in recycling tonnage and Brent from 37 to 88 per cent. Arguments to the contrary are that it is anti-libertarian, unnecessarily confrontational and ignores the quantity or quality of what is recycled. After all, someone recycling one newspaper every few weeks would fall into the same category as a keen recycler.

What should be done?

We believe that compulsory recycling can persuade stubborn non-recyclers to change their ways if care is taken on how and when it is introduced.

Recycling is a good news story - a way for people to improve their local and global environment. The majority of the population, once a well-run scheme is put into place, will understand how and why they should recycle and will be enthusiastic participants.
But once a recycling scheme has matured, initial operational problems are solved and comprehensive coverage is achieved, then a compulsory element could be introduced as a final push to target stubborn non-recyclers. Even then, a process of targeted education and assistance must be available to non-recyclers to encourage them to participate with prosecution only being used as a last resort.

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