The impact of Blue Planet II has been stark on the nation’s conscious. Waitrose recently reported that questions about their plastic packaging has increased by 800% since the programme aired on BBC. Against this backdrop there has been greater interest than usual in the December release of the government’s Waste and Resource Strategy setting out how the UK is going to more effectively use the resources we consume.

One of the biggest challenges the strategy needs to address is how to effectively capture the packaging and containers that are thrown away on the High Street. We are a nation increasingly eating and drinking whilst on the move and the recycling infrastructure has not kept pace with this change in behaviour.

To help answer this question Hubbub has brought together 25 major companies to invest in a trial campaign in Leeds to see how we can boost recycling rates. #LeedsByExample is being independently assessed and has been running for just over four months with the full support of Leeds City Council. Here are five things we have learned to-date.

1) The communication approach is working

Overall the campaign results to-date are looking positive. Recycling rates are increasing, the level of contamination is manageable and there is growing positive awareness about the scheme. This impact is the result of using consistent, colourful and playful messaging across the city centre.

To-date we have placed large-scale displays on the high street, run a digital marketing campaign using street posters, held an ‘influencers event’ to help us reach 18-25 year olds via social media. Most successful however have been two playful bins that burp and blow bubbles when used. These are incredibly popular with children and have been a social media hit.

2) Collecting Coffee Cups is important

There are sufficient recycling facilities in the UK to recycle all the disposable coffee cups we use. We now need to build an infrastructure that can effectively collect these cups. This is important not only because of the volume of cups that we get through but because of the problems of contamination they cause when put into the wrong bin.

In Leeds we have been testing a variety of approaches to collecting coffee cups and are starting to have some success. In the five weeks running up to Christmas over 20,000 cups were collected from just five bins. We still have a long way to go to make the habit of coffee cup recycling the social norm and will continue to push this message as the campaign develops.

3) Recycling reward machines are making a difference

We have installed five recycling reward machines in a variety of settings offering differing types and levels of rewards for people who use them. The machines seem to be robust, are collecting high quality materials for recycling and people are enjoying the novelty of using them. However initial results suggest that whilst 10,000 items have been collected very few rewards have been redeemed. In March we will be undertaking further research to explore this further.

4) A Recycling App isn’t gaining traction

In partnership with OPRL we have been exploring whether an App can boost recycling rates. The App uses the OPRL information on packaging to tell the user whether the product can be recycled and, in Leeds, tells them where the nearest recycling point is for that item.

To-date take-up and usage of the App has been low and we will be carrying out research with the target market to understand why. It may be that this approach takes time to build, there might be a design issue or it could be that people are not seeking this type of support.

5) Experimentation, monitoring and reacting quickly is crucial

The mantra of the campaign has been to learn fast and learn cheap. This approach has proved essential. For example on-street coffee cup bins which stacked cups had to be removed within a week as people didn’t stack or separate their cups, meaning the bins quickly overflowed and attracted litter. This was useful learning and we’ll be looking at how to build on this experimentation for future cup bin collections.

Contamination increased around Christmas (which seems to be understood within the industry) to around 35% but has since decreased to 29% again. We’re continuing to monitor this and have introduced additional messaging and communications such as on litter bins to remind people to recycle, as the volumes of recycling are still relatively low.

An independent agency is monitoring the impact of activities and we will share full results as they become available.