Leeds by Example has taken a fresh look at how to increase recycling rates on the High Street. The ground-breaking six-month trial is the UK’s largest collaborative recycling campaign and has almost doubled the number of people recycling plastic, cans and coffee cups. Success has resulted in the Leeds campaign being extended for a further six months and secured agreement from Edinburgh and Swansea to replicate successful elements. Read the Executive Summary or Full Impact Report to find out what we’ve learnt so far.

Launched in October 2018 by Hubbub and Ecosurety, Leeds By Example has brought together a unique combination of 25 national partners and 29 local partners including Leeds City Council to install 124 eye-catching new recycling points in Leeds city centre. As well as on-street bins these include recycle reward machines, which offer money-off vouchers in return for recycling and other recycling points in retailers and workplaces.

Independently assessed results show the proportion of people disposing of plastic cans and cups in a recycling bin almost doubled from 17% to 32%. Overall 600,000 coffee cups, 65,000 cans and 55,000 bottles were recycled during the six-month period.

The campaign grabbed the public’s attention with brightly coloured recycling bins, a giant coffee cup installation and a ‘Re-Cycler’ recycling collection bike positioned in a variety of locations including universities and shopping centres.  Most popular were two bins designed to test the impact of ‘fun theory’ which burped and blew bubbles when used – these proved very shareable on social media. Polling showed that 82% of the public in Leeds City Centre had seen the campaign.

An evaluation of the first six months discovered:

  • The public respond to fun and interaction.
  • The quality of on-street recycling is higher in places where people have more time to loiter, such as at bus stops, rather than when they are in a rush. It is also higher when recycling bins are visible from afar, as people have more chance to notice them.
  • Recycle reward machines proved most effective in ‘closed-loop’ managed spaces where people both consume and dispose of food and drink packaging.
  • 95% of people surveyed liked the idea of the recycle reward machines. Most people who used them were motivated by a belief in recycling rather than financial rewards.
  • The 'WeRecycle' App telling people what can and can’t be recycled and the location of the nearest recycling bin proved less popular and won’t be included in the expansion to Edinburgh and Swansea.

Hubbub is aware that more can be learned from Leeds which is why the campaign is being extended for a further six months. 

Key ambitions for the next six months will be:

  • To improve the quality of the recycling collected through better communication and engagement campaigns with local people.
  • An attempt to increase the amount of materials collected by increasing the number of on-street recycling bins to around 100, introducing more cup collections and further engaging the local business community.
  • A greater focus on waste reduction through the promotion of reuse and refill campaigns.
  • A continued emphasis on the fact that all bottles, cans and cups collected are being recycled within the UK and as close to Leeds as possible.

In September, the Recycling on the Go initiative will be taken up by Swansea and Edinburgh, building on what has been learned in Leeds to increase recycling levels in those cities. The expansion will allow further approaches to be tested and will build a growing level of data illustrating what can be achieved. Hubbub will use findings to inform government policy including contributing to waste strategy consultations.

One of the main conclusions has been the importance of creating a coalition of organisations to support the experimentation. Hubbub is grateful to the following companies who united behind the campaign: Alupro, Asda, Association of Convenience Stores, Ball Beverage Packaging Europe, British Plastics Federation, Bunzl, Caffè Nero, Coca-Cola GB, Costa Coffee, Co-op, Crown Packaging, Danone, Ecosurety, Greggs, Highland Spring, Innocent, Klöckner Pentaplast (kp), Lucozade Ribena Suntory, Marks and Spencer, McDonald’s UK, Morrisons, PepsiCo UK, Pret A Manger, Starbucks and Shell.  

For further information on Leeds By Example (including the full impact report), the overall Recycling on the Go initiative and to get involved visit www.leedsbyexample.co.uk.