The first council to try the recycling reward scheme favoured by the Conservative Party has revealed its initial success rate. But it stresses the scheme is still under trial and needs more time.
Windsor and Maidenhead council has been testing a voucher scheme pioneered by US firm Recyclebank since the summer (ENDS Report 412, p 16 ). It decided to try the scheme after its recycling rates had reached a plateau.
Households earn points based on the weight of material they put out for recycling. These can be redeemed online for vouchers that can be used in local businesses such as Marks and Spencer and Costa Coffee, as well as the council’s sports centres.
At the end of November, Conservative shadow chancellor George Osborne praised the scheme, saying it had increased recycling by 30%. A Tory government would try to adopt it nationwide, he added. Shadow environment secretary Nick Herbert repeated the comments in a Guardian article the same day. Neither offered details on how the figure had been calculated.
ENDS can now reveal the weight of dry recyclables collected from homes in the trial rose by 36% during the first 12 weeks of the 26-week test period, compared with the same period last year. Some 6.1 kilograms of dry recyclables are now collected per household per week.
However, the figure is yet to be audited. Some of the increase may be due to the bigger micro-chipped recycling bins brought in for the scheme. In the past, residents were given two boxes: one for glass, cans and plastic bottles, the other for paper and cardboard.
Windsor and Maidenhead’s head of public protection Terry Gould said it was too early to assess the success of the trial but insisted: "It’s very popular locally - people are loving it."
The trial started with garden waste collections in June before expanding to include dry recyclate. It is open to 6,430 households, of which 67% have activated their accounts so they can claim points. The average household is expected to earn points worth about £130 a year. At the time of going to press 29% had claimed vouchers.
Mr Gould admitted the scheme may be less suited to flats with communal recycling bins. Another potential criticism is that paying for recycling sets a precedent that would be hard to reverse. But Mr Gould said he was sure residents would continue recycling even if the rewards were taken away. "At the end of the day, we’re trialling something no one else has," he said. "If it works, it works. If not, we’ll pull the plug on it."
A second Recyclebank trial run by Labour-led Halton Borough Council in Cheshire, started in October. It plans to publish interim results in January. They should be clearer than those for Windsor and Maidenhead as the trial involves more households and the new bins were introduced before the reward part of the scheme.
Reward schemes involving things such as prize draws have been tried by many councils in the past. However, they have rewarded residents simply for putting out recycling bins rather than the weight of recyclate. The results suggested limited improvement in most areas (ENDS Report 367, pp 17-18 ). Other councils have made recycling compulsory, allowing them to fine householders who do not put out recycling bins or leave the wrong materials in them (ENDS Report 378, p 11 ). The London Borough of Brent, which made recycling compulsory in August 2008, saw recycling rates rise from 21% in 2006-07 to 30% in 2008-09.
Participation rose from about 40% to 90%.
Householders that do not put out recycling bins for three consecutive weeks are sent warning letters and given information by recycling advisors. Any householder refusing to recycle can be fined £1,000, but there have been no prosecutions to date.
The government has also enabled councils to trial pay-as-you-throw charging schemes for non-recyclable waste, which should raise recycling rates. But no one has yet taken them up (ENDS Report 408, p 6-7 ).