Household waste behaviours in London – phase II

Resource Recovery Forum (RRF)
Start date:
October 2002
May 2003

Following the success of the phase I project Brook Lyndhurst was again commissioned by RRF to further investigate attitudes and behaviours to waste management as seen through the eyes of London household customers, rather than necessarily what may be desirable or practicable for service providers.

Building on Household Waste Behaviours in London phase I, this project further explored the micro-behaviour of households in relation to waste- through qualitative research. Specifically, the aims were:

  • To unpack the motivations, barriers and triggers to recycling, composting and waste minimisation of High, Medium and Low recycling households, and
  • To identify what specific types of help households say they need to be able to do more.

The focus of the research was deliberately on waste management as seen through the eyes of household customers, rather than necessarily what may be desirable or practicable for service providers. The very personal views and experiences gathered in the research suggest how public buy-in to a high recycling culture might be achieved, and where people think services are currently failing.


  • Additional quantitative analysis of the Phase 1 survey data
  • 18 focus groups; six for each category across London with a range of pre-tasks and group activities (e.g. waste diaries, internet bulletin board discussion, shopping exercise and ad campaign exercise).
  • Analysis and reporting


  • Our research reveals that the amount of effort any household is willing to make is driven by two overriding factors – interest and convenience.
  • Interest can be undermined by negative feelings that recycling is:
    • Boring
    • Too much hassle
    • Hippy, too alternative, or ‘green’
    • For the left-wing middle classes
    • Irrelevant to youth lifestyles
  • At a practical level, convenience is related to kerbside collections, location of bring sites, working hours, access to a car and space for storage.
  • Only 1 in 5 households recycles anything other than paper, glass or old clothes more often than occasionally.
  • Only 1 in 20 households are true multi-material High recyclers, who always recycle a wide range of materials.
  • A majority of households will only recycle a wider range of materials if these are collected from home.
  • Notably, our research shows that only 1 in 3 kerbside households in London are High recyclers.
  • Households identify a need for two distinct types of information:
    • Local service-level information
    • Broad interest raising campaigns
  • The analysis indicates two guiding principles for attacking recycling barriers:
    • Make recycling easier
    • Make it more engaging, especially to a populist and youthful audience

Strategic priorities for London
The research confirms that the three strategic priorities for London overall are:

  • To provide more convenient facilities to the ~50% of households which do not have kerbside collections, including the 26% who are Low/Non recyclers who say they could do more.
  • To boost the effectiveness and range of materials recycled by households that already benefit from kerbside collections. This may offer the prospect for the quickest wins in terms of tonnages and will require investment in local communications as well as additional hardware and infrastructure.
  • To tackle the sizeable issue of recycling facilities for blocks of flats and estates, including privately rented mansion blocks as well as social housing. This is probably the most significant medium term priority for household waste management in London.

Implications for waste policy

  • Our analysis points to four strategic areas for consideration by policy makers and the waste industry as a body:
    • Public funding for recycling – additional support to expand access to multi-material kerbside recycling; help to develop user-friendly services for social and private sector flats; and recognition that capital projects need to be supported by on-going expenditure on communications.
    • Dissemination of knowledge and expertise – a need for national and regional government to work with the industry to create a systematic and co-ordinated method for capturing data on household recycling participation. This is required to support evidence-based policy making and to provide a reliable source of benchmarking data for local authorities, their partners and the research community.
    • Leadership and demonstration – to show the public that recycling is being championed by government and industry. While the public think a drip-feed national TV campaign is required cheaper options no doubt exist – for example continuing (and perhaps higher profile) support for the national waste campaign and exploring the possibility of piggy-backing on established consumer brands.
    • Waste charging – may be indicated selectively where authorities can demonstrate that they have exhausted all voluntary options. Minimum criteria for granting powers to charge should include hard evidence that authorities already deliver: universal access to multi-material recycling; high levels of customer satisfaction; and an effective communications strategy. Authorities should be scored on outcomes not inputs regarding these criteria.
  • Though charging will almost certainly be required in the medium to long term it should perhaps considered as the final part of an overall package which covers:
    • Equalising opportunities to recycle - especially for low income households;
    • Communicating messages effectively;
    • Providing flawless ‘customer’ service;
    • Raising aspirations towards multi-material recycling;
    • Exploiting the demonstration effect of recycling in the public’s ‘everyday encounters’; and
    • Strong leadership from national Government, regional Government and Business.

Note: The research was designed and analysed by Brook Lyndhurst, and fieldwork was conducted by MORI (now Ipsos MORI).

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