One month ago, Hubbub launched the UK’s biggest collaborative effort to boost high street recycling in Leeds. The campaign is in its early days, but valuable lessons are already helping us to refine our approach.  Here are five early findings:

1) More transparency is required

Understanding what happens to the materials collected for recycling has been time-consuming.  Hubbub is determined that all materials are recycled as locally to Leeds as feasibly possible.  We believe that currently the waste we are collecting is heading to the following destinations:

  • The plastic drinks bottles are being recycled back into new plastic bottles in Lincolnshire.
  • Other plastics are heading to North Wales or Scotland for recycling into furniture or other plastic items.
  • Aluminium cans are going to Warrington to be recycled into new cans.
  • Coffee cups are being sent to either Halifax, Cumbria or Kent.

Given recent news stories, the public is rightly suspicious about what happens to their recycling and there needs to be greater transparency to demonstrate that materials are being recycled in the UK.

Hubbub is concerned that the economics could change, making it more profitable for waste to be exported with less traceability. We believe that the government must review existing policies to boost the economic viability of recycling within the UK.

2) Contamination is a problem

The recycling industry cannot accept materials that are contaminated with other waste. This has always been a problem with recycling bins placed on the High Street. In the first week of the campaign contamination rates were at 42%.  By week three we had got this down to 27%. 

Contamination rates will continue to be monitored and it is a key aim to reduce them further. We will be explicit about what needs to go in the bins and explain what happens at the recycling centre if waste is contaminated. 

3) More coffee cups need to be recycled

Over 11% of the contamination in the bins is caused by coffee cups. The residual liquid from these cups is also causing problems. Based on this evidence, we will be placing coffee cup recycling bins next to existing recycling bins to measure impact. We are also working on an on-street bespoke coffee cup bin to deal with the lids, stirrers and liquids.

4) Recycling reward machines are popular

We have installed four recycling reward machines. Two are at Leeds Beckett University, one is in Kirkgate, a large indoor market, and one is at a Trinity shopping centre. The shopping centre machine has proved highly popular with over 800 plastic bottles being collected in the first ten days.

The number of redeemed reward coupons has been low and we are starting to experiment with other approaches. In the lead up to Christmas, at the university we will test a donation of 10p to a local homeless charity to measure the impact.

5) The public is interested

The press and social media coverage has been overwhelmingly positive. Over 89 media stories were generated in the first ten days, over 870 different people have tweeted about the campaign with a Twitter reach of over 2.9 million.

The most positive coverage has been for the two playful bins, which burp and blow bubbles, recently named Alan and Gordon Binit through a public competition. The large on-street installation has generated discussion. This level of coverage has resulted in 42% of people surveyed saying that they were aware of the campaign within the first two weeks.

On-going independent evaluation will continue and we will share results as they become available. If you want to know more please get in touch.