Household waste behaviours in London update

Greater London Authority (GLA), London Waste Action and Government Office for London
Start date:
November 2005
March 2006

The purpose of the survey was to measure how much has changed since 2001, against a background in which more than £100 million has been invested in infrastructure and services: by Government (DEFRA and WRAP) via the London Recycling Fund; by boroughs and other London waste authorities, on their own part; and by the first two years of the Recycle for London communications campaign.

Brook Lyndhurst devised and led this study which examined how London households’ attitudes and lifestyles affect commitment to recycling and waste minimisation.

To explore how much attitudes and behaviour have changed since 2001, following the significant new investment in services enabled by the London Recycling Fund and the first two years of the Recycle for London communications campaign.


  • A quantitative follow-up face-to-face survey of 1,005 households spread across London
  • Analysis and reporting

Key findings

  • While the Household Waste Behaviours Phase 1 research concluded that making recycling more convenient is the key to unlocking higher participation, further research suggests that perceptions of what is convenient is dictated by a combination of factors, namely: personal world-view; peer group social norms; personal living circumstances; and the nature of local recycling services.
  • Evidence that there has been significant progress in London’s household recycling is provided by a number of headline indicators from the 2005 survey:
    • The number of declared Non-recyclers fell from 22% to 8% between 2001 and 2005.
    • Those saying they can’t be persuaded to recycle more fell from 1 in 6 to 1 in 20 households.
    • The number of consistent recyclers (Highs and Mediums) increased from 50% to 70%.
    • Those agreeing that recycling is easy to fit into everyday life are now a majority of 60%, up from just under 40% in 2001.
  • Two features in particular have underpinned the improving trend and reflect the significant investments made in infrastructure and communications in the last few years:
    • Opportunities to recycle are now vastly better and more equal between social groups than they were in 2001;
    • Perceptions and awareness have shifted significantly, such that Londoners’ ‘mental map’ of recycling has been transformed to include many more materials, and far fewer households now perceive recycling as difficult.
  • Widespread introduction of kerbside collection, together with the roll-out of more multi-material collections, has been a significant driver of the increase in claimed recycling between 2001 and 2005. Introduction of kerbside collections has been particularly important in recruiting new Medium recyclers, who might otherwise be too passive to make the effort.
  • While progress has been impressive, a number of significant challenges clearly remain, including:
    • Engaging participation from remaining Non and Low recyclers – but accepting that up to 1 in 5 may continue to resist voluntary recycling;
    • Focusing on green waste – as key area of lost opportunity;
    • Starting to raise awareness of WEEE - to prevent a recycling time bomb; and
    • An intensive focus on flats – especially areas with young people, high residential mobility, and including low-rise private rentals as well as social housing estates.


  • The priorities identified by the 2005 analysis have implications in three policy areas: services; communications; and the rules of engagement with the public on recycling.
  • In relation to services, the three key priorities are: to consider what further help is required to deal with the multiple engagement issues relating to households in flats, in inner London especially; to tackle green waste issues; and to increase materials capture from existing kerbside households.
  • On communications, the analysis points to a need for continuing promotion at local and strategic levels to reinforce the new mental map of recycling and ensure that good intentions are truly embedded in consistent recycling behaviour.
  • While it is still too early for a widespread change in the rules of engagement with the public on recycling - largely because social inequalities in access to services remain – the analysis provides some support for trialling forms of compulsion in areas with mature kerbside collection and settled residential populations.

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


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