12 May 2016 by Will Date

Reward schemes saw no ‘sea change’ in recycling

Recycling reward schemes funded through the government’s Reward and Recognition Fund (RRF) did not herald a ‘sea change’ in recycling amongst participating organisations, Defra reported today (12 May).

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) allocated around £2 million in funding to local authorities, community groups and partnerships to deliver 31 reward schemes aimed at encouraging recycling – following a pledge in the 2011 Waste Strategy (see letsrecycle.com story).

Nectar card

The government spent around £2 million to fund recycling reward schemes

The remit of the schemes was to engage and encourage people to recycle and reuse, using tools such as individual prize draws, individual rewards, community rewards, competitions and recognition.

Today, the Department has issued findings of a study into the impact of the initiative, carried out by research consultancy Brook Lyndhurst. This focuses on the resulting behaviour changes and examines whether the schemes are sustainable without government funding.

However, the report paints a relatively gloomy picture of the overall impact on recycling performance and suggests that the effect was limited.

The report states: “Overall, schemes did not experience a sea change in recycling tonnage, participation or claimed behaviour. The measured effect, however, varied widely across types of schemes. Kerbside recycling schemes tended to see marginal percentage increases in tonnage, while schemes focusing on communal recycling and reuse saw greater changes in tonnage.

“Overall, schemes did not experience a sea change in recycling tonnage, participation or claimed behaviour. The measured effect, however, varied widely across types of schemes.”


“This difference in achievement between kerbside recycling, on the one hand, and communal recycling and reuse, on the other, may be because these latter behaviours are less common and less established than kerbside recycling and are starting at a lower point of participation and capture.”

Defra’s report also suggested that improvements in recycling and reuse tended to be linked to ‘better services, communications and promotion’ rather than being directly attributable to the reward element of the schemes.

Additionally, the report suggests that only eight of the 31 schemes set up as a result of the initial government funding continued once this money was withdrawn. Reasons for reward schemes not continuing included ‘not creating a business case for the scheme and not showing a positive impact on tonnage as well as the more standard barriers like funding, skills and resources’.

It adds: “Rewards and recognition in these schemes have the potential to validate, reinforce and, possibly, improve a pre-existing behaviour rather than act as a catalyst for new behaviours or encourage new service users.”


Schemes highlighted in the report include an initiative run by Birmingham city council in partnership with loyalty card scheme Nectar aimed at boosting paper recycling. The scheme ran between September 2011 and ran until March 2012.

Birmingham Nectar

In Birmingham, the scheme was designed to increase the capture of paper and card for recycling

The pilot scheme saw participating residents given an address label and bar-coded sticker to put on their blue paper and card recycling boxes. These were scanned before the paper is collected with residents receiving 25 Nectar points every time they left their paper out for recycling.

Despite having been heralded as a ‘great success’ by the city council (see letsrecycle.com story), analysis of the scheme claimed that it only saw a slight increase in participation in the paper recycling service, with participation levels increasing from 75 at the scheme’s launch, to 78% after.

Milton Keynes

Elsewhere, Defra also highlighted a scheme set up by Milton Keynes council in partnership with Coca Cola Enterprises, named ‘Recycle For Your Community’ (RFYC), which saw community groups obtain pledges from residents to start recycling or improve recycling or minimise their waste. Community groups would be paid £10 for each pledge and post-scheme survey obtained. The community group could also get a £500 bonus per waste stream (maximum of three) if the tonnages improved in that area.

Community groups involved in the scheme estimated that they spoke to 1,000 residents during the five months that the scheme ran, with a total of 266 households pledging.

Research concluded that overall the scheme did not create a “shift change” in participation rates or tonnages collected, but did claim that at a time when recycling rates were flat-lining nationally and locally “there is some evidence to suggest that this downward trend was less pronounced in the scheme area”.

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