Survey finds ‘distrust’ in local recycling systems

42% of people in the UK believe that their local authority ‘throws most of the recycling in with general waste’ according to the findings of a survey by resources and waste firm Viridor.

The 2019 Viridor Recycling Index – the fourth time that Viridor has canvassed public attitudes towards recycling and waste – asked for views on areas including trust in public authorities handling the UK’s waste, recycling exports and responsibility for education on issues around waste.

Public trust in recycling (click to expand)

The survey of 2,500 people in areas including Cardiff, Glasgow, London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Bristol, Taunton and Edinburgh suggests that there is widescale ‘distrust’ over whether recycling is done properly across different regions.

This proved significantly to be the case in Birmingham where 59% of people answered that they agreed with the statement ‘I think my council just throws most of my recycling in with the general waste’.


On recycling exports, Viridor claims that the Index shows a strong support for the processing of plastic waste within the UK. 85% of people would support domestic-only reprocessing of plastic waste, Viridor claims, a rise of five points compared to the 2018 index.

(l-r) Sarah Heald, Director of Corporate Affairs and Investor Relations at Viridor’s parent company, Pennon, and Phil Piddington, Viridor’s managing director, with recovered plastics produced by the company

This has prompted the company to pledge to end the export of plastic waste from its own operations by the end of 2020 – when it anticipates that it will be able to send material to its 80,000 tonnes per year plastics recycling facility at Avonmouth, which is currently in development (see story).

Viridor’s pledge comes at a time when tightening export markets have resulted in a boom in the value of PRNs for plastic.

Phil Piddington, managing director of Viridor, said: “Viridor has been using the Recycling Index to track public attitudes to recycling for four years and, as a UK company working with 150 local authority and major corporate clients and 32,000 customers, we understand the appetite for greater resource efficiency and a more circular economy.

“What this really means is that people expect the UK to be responsible for the waste it produces. The public want us to find a way to recycle and reprocess plastic so it is no longer considered single use, that it will go on to live another life and make an ongoing contribution to our economy.”


Other highlights from the survey include a five point increase in support for councils moving towards a harmonised collection specification for recyclable materials (88%) and greater uniformity in the colour of containers used by councils (77%).

64% of respondents to the survey said that they would be more likely to buy products with recyclable packaging.

But, just one in three people surveyed suggested that they are ‘very confident’ that they are putting waste in the right containers. This is compounded by a drop of around eight points in consumers (46%) who say that they are provided with enough information to know what to recycle and how, compared to 2018.

As part of efforts to improve awareness on recycling, 76% of respondents agreed with the statement that there should be mandatory lessons on recycling in schools.

Sarah Heald, Director of Corporate Affairs and Investor Relations at Viridor’s parent company, Pennon, said: “The plastics tax and the Resources and Waste Strategy’s focus on issues such as Extended Producer Responsibility, or producer pays, will have a really significant impact because they help to create the right environment for investment in the infrastructure the UK needs and, of course, the demand for recyclable material in the UK. It is crucial that UK manufacturers and consumers brands want to use recyclable material in new products, that this is part of their own sustainability targets because that is the circular economy in action and that should be everyone’s ambition.”

Related Links
Viridor – 2019 Recycling Index

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