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A recent survey of 2,078 adults across the UK found that 73% of respondents don’t know where their recycled materials go, and 65% don’t know what these materials will be made into. The survey was conducted in May by YouGov for the UK’s Resource Association. This means that the majority of the public doesn’t know if the glass bottles and jars they recycle are made into new glass containers in a closed-loop system, become a construction aggregate for road use, or end up in a landfill.
In the same survey, 68% of adults said that more information should be available about what happens to recycled materials in terms of their final disposition and end use. Importantly, 32% said that they would be more or much more likely to recycle if this information was available.
While there has not been a recent comparable survey in the U.S., it’s likely that the findings would be similar. It may be surprising that the public is unclear about what happens to the materials they recycle, but the underlying public perception is that whatever is set out for recycling simply gets recycled. Clearly, more information is needed to assure the public of the value of their recycling behavior, especially if we want to continue to boost public participation in a host of recycling programs.
Convenience and Efficiency
Although the public wants more information, this may not necessarily motivate them to recycle more. P. Wesley Schultz, Ph.D., professor of psychology at California State University, San Marcos, reported at a Keep America Beautiful recycling symposium in October 2011 that increasing knowledge does not typically result in behavior change around recycling. In addition to providing more knowledge about where recyclables go and how they are used, Schultz suggests removing barriers and enhancing benefits to increase recycling.
One of the most effective ways to encourage recycling is to make it convenient by creating a more accessible infrastructure. This means reducing uncertainty about what is expected from the public by posting clear signage and offering a variety of recycling programs and systems.
Meeting Public Expectations
The Resource Association has initiated a program that places a primary focus on tracing recyclables—from collection, through processing, to end markets or final disposition. The organization is committed to working with government agencies and like-minded partners to increase the transparency of recycling services.
The glass industry also sees immense value in increasing public information and transparency around recycling, especially the numerous paybacks associated with closed-loop glass container recycling. This has a double benefit: it will help to cement public confidence in the recycling process, and it will take the veil off recycling collection or processing systems that are unable to deliver a recycled glass product that is marketable for use in making new glass bottles or fiberglass.
The glass industry is committed to improving the efficiency of recycling collection systems. To this end, we are also working with government and industry partners to establish more accountability around recycling collection and processing. This includes federal legislation to better understand collection methods and reuse rates for the variety of recycling schemes.
Recycling contributes to job creation and has proven economic and environmental value for glass manufacturers, as well as many other industries. Public recycling is critical to the recycling infrastructure. Let’s help to provide assurance to the public that their glass bottles and jars (and other post-consumer materials) are truly recycled.
Any views or opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not represent those of Ceramic Industry, its staff, Editorial Advisory Board or BNP Media.