Success of ground-breaking recycling on-the-go trial sparks expansion into Scotland and Wales

Leeds By Example, the UK’s biggest collaborative drive to boost recycling of some of the most common food and drink packaging consumed ‘on-the-go’, has inspired cities in Scotland and Wales to launch their own campaigns. Launched to help address the UK’s extremely low on-the-go recycling rates, the ground-breaking six-month trial in Leeds has doubled the number of people recycling plastic, cans and coffee cups and has recycled 600,000 cups in less than six months. The model will be rolled out in Swansea and Edinburgh later this year, and will also continue for a further six months in Leeds city centre, environmental charity Hubbub announced today.

Launched in October 2018 by Hubbub and Ecosurety, Leeds By Example has brought together a unique combination of 25 national partners who are funding the scheme and 29 local partners including Leeds City Council. Together they have installed 124 eye-catching new recycling points in Leeds city centre, an area that had no on-the-go recycling facilities before the trial. 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.

Results from the trial show the proportion of people disposing of plastic, cans and coffee cups in a recycling bin almost doubled from 17% to 32%.  In addition to the significant numbers of coffee cups recycled, 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, bins that burp and blow bubbles when used, a giant coffee cup installation and a ‘Re-Cycler’ recycling collection bike which were positioned in various locations including universities and shopping centres. Polling showed that 82% of the public in Leeds City Centre had seen the campaign.

An evaluation of the campaign found that the following elements were key to its success:

  • The public respond to fun and interaction; for instance, the bubble-blowing bins were one of the most popular campaign elements
  • 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 are most effective in ‘closed-loop’ managed spaces where people both consume and dispose of food and drink packaging
  • 95% of people interviewed liked the idea of recycle reward machines and most people who used them were motivated by a belief in recycling rather than financial rewards

The extension in Leeds city centre will increase the number of on-street recycling bins to around 100, introduce more cup collections and further engage the local business community. In September, the Recycling on the Go initiative will be available in Swansea and Edinburgh, building on what has been learned in Leeds to increase recycling levels in those cities.

Gavin Ellis, co-founder and director, Hubbub said: “When it comes to recycling the packaging we all use, too often the onus is on local authorities to tackle this issue alone. The success of Leeds By Example shows what can be achieved when partners work together to share expertise, grab public attention and change behaviour. Lack of infrastructure and unclear messaging is a major barrier to recycling in the UK, and results from our trial have shown the importance of new recycling bins supported by a clear, concise call to action.

“We’re thrilled with the campaign’s success so far and it’s the start of a wider ambition – to create a legacy for Leeds and a tried and tested replicable model for other cities to follow. We’re already looking forward to rolling out the campaign to Edinburgh and Swansea in September and we encourage other cities to get in touch about the possibility of launching in their area in 2020.”