ISWA YPG UK Blog-Writing Competition: Am I chasing rainbows?

Emma Whittet, Ricardo Energy & Environment

24 May 2018 -



How can we get communities to think about the waste they generate and recycle more? In this blog I’d like to share some of my, somewhat out there, thoughts on how we can try to achieve this. Hopefully it will spark ideas, create questions or you may just think I am chasing rainbows, but either way let’s try and ensure there is a pot of gold at the end and not a pile of landfilled waste.


  1.  Open up – we need to show route maps for materials and dispel the myth that ‘it all ends up in landfill anyway’. We should encourage mixed recycling facilities to have education centres and open their doors to visually show people what happens to their waste. Not only this, but emphasise the value of the different material streams - as Brits we would hate to know we are essentially throwing money away! 
  2. Pictures say it all – pictures are used on cigarette packages to show the health risks of smoking and many studies have shown this has had an impact[1]. Moreover, David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II sparked major awareness after showing how ocean plastics are threatening marine life. Could we put pictures on our packaging showing what happens if it’s not recycled? Let’s utilise packaging to educate.


Infrastructure and Services

  1. Waste duty – bear with me on this one, jury duty is a responsibility of citizenship. We all create waste and we are all responsible for what happens to it. Could we have mandatory waste duty? We obviously do not have enough volunteers campaigning for litter to be disposed of correctly or I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog, so maybe to tackle this, we must implement this legal obligation. 
  2. High rise buildings – after living in Dubai a few years ago, in a 98-floor building, I was shocked to see only one chute for all waste. These are relatively new buildings that should have surely been designed to have separate waste stream chutes? Chute systems are not widely used in the UK just now but a small research trial in three London Boroughs found residents recycled an average of 3.69kg/hh/wk using chutes.  This was the highest performing collection system for flats[2].  Further trial for these systems is needed to ensure high rise developments are designed with the most effective waste management system in mind.  


Utilise digital

  1. Can I recycle it? App – how many times have we stood in our kitchen trying to decide whether or not something is recyclable? It would be really useful to have an app with which you can specify your council area, upload a picture of the product and with the wonders of technology find out if its recyclable and maybe remind you when the bins go out too! Long term this information should give us a clear picture of where confusion lies, what happens in different council areas and take appropriate action. 
  2. WEEE waste digital platform – Britain comfortably met the recycling target for WEEE waste when it was at 45%, however the new target for 2019 is for 65% of electrical equipment sold to be recycled[3]. A digital platform could be used to encourage people to take old electrical equipment to the recycling centre. Households would have a card that is recognised by the recycling centres and receive points for taking items there. Points would give discounts with retailers who are encouraged to sign up to the platform. If loyalty schemes work with supermarkets, there’s no reason it shouldn’t work with encouraging communities to recycle. 



 About the author:

I am a consultant in the Resource Efficiency and Waste Management team at Ricardo Energy & Environment. I am a graduate member of CIWM and have a masters in Energy and Environmental Management. I have a significant amount of experience providing support to organisations in the areas of Resource Efficiency, having supported over 200 Scottish organisations. 







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