Recycling: A duty, not a choice?

I experienced strangely conflicted responses this morning when I saw this Hammersmith & Fulham bin lorry outside our office. Conflicted because, on the one hand, I wholly agree with the message – recycling is a duty – a moral one if not necessarily a statutory one. But at the same time, the tone of the message triggered all sorts of unbecoming instinctive responses to being told what to do (I live in Hackney, where on-street exhortations to recycle are generally much friendlier).

It’s a well-established problem, which thanks to Ben Page at Ipsos MORI, has its very own name: cognitive polyphasia. This basically describes our ability to hold two contradictory points of view at the same time (though in Ben’s application, the individual concerned shouldn’t feel ‘conflicted’).

The ‘don’t tell me what to do’ factor is something that crops up again and again in focus groups on environmental messaging, and one which the likes of Futerra have been shouting about for some time. Their 10 rules for sustainability communications include tips like ‘avoid too much guilt’ – a key component of any ‘duty’ message.

I’d be interested to know whether Hammersmith & Fulham have monitored responses to this approach (it’s been running since October 2009) and how their experience compares with responses to, say, the ‘Starve your bin’ campaign, which took a very different approach to promoting recycling (and managed to incorporate a waste prevention angle).

Interestingly, the blurb on the H&F site actually stresses a different aspect – one which crops up regularly in discussion groups as offering more potential for councils in selling recycling and waste prevention to residents. There is often a total disconnect between residents’ views on recycling services and their desire to pay less council tax. The H&F page opens with this killer fact: “Did you know that if borough residents were to recycle twice as much as they currently do, it would save the council a whopping £2m a year in landfill charges?”

If they were to give some thought to translating that argument into a shorter, lighter-hearted message, it would be interesting to see what the result would be. The challenge, of course, would be in convincing residents that money saved through reduced landfill charges would actually be reflected in the amount they pay for waste services through their council tax or indeed, improved services elsewhere. Still, one to mull over perhaps.


  1. Posted September 21, 2010 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Interesting enough, the word “duty” is synonymous (or maybe that should be endemic) within the recycling industry. Transferring ones waste between one recycling company and another requires something call a “duty of care transfer note”- in effect we have a duty to fulfill our legal obligation every day at work.

    The savings assoicated with not using landfill are absolutely astounding, but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll discover that it’s the EU and not parliament that set these landfill charges- and can fine us if we miss recycling targets.

  2. Posted July 11, 2014 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    wonderful insight. Really enjoyed reading this blog.

    Keep up the good work and to everyone keep on learning!

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