Running a rubbish removal company in London brings me into contact with all sorts of people who have noble ideas with regards to the best methods to use to encourage recycling. The large majority of these proposals aim to extol the benefits of increasing the levels of environmental awareness in local areas whilst also improving hard infrastructure. My company, JunkWize, agrees with them to a certain extent.
Education clearly has an important role to play. It’s obvious that if we can educate the younger generation about the impact their actions can have on their surroundings, then they will be more likely to care about those same surroundings in the future. Over the last few years in London this kind of education has really grown in both scale and scope. As such, it’s now not uncommon to see groups of schoolchildren being supervised whilst they cheerily pick up litter and remove old bikes and trolleys from city streams.
It’s also clear that public infrastructure must also be up to the job if we are to witness recycling rates increase. It’s of no use for councils to spend thousands on telling people why they should recycle their junk at rubbish tips, if those same tips are so small that tiresome traffic jams are always present outside them. Equally, if there are simply not enough bins then the results will be inevitable.
On the subject of financial incentives for recycling, though, we differ greatly. Where environmental groups claim them to be a costly and unnecessary form of expenditure, we see them as the only realistic option available which actually produces the desired effect.
The effect money has on ingrained habits is remarkable. For instance, in London the price of property has reached unbelievable high levels, with rises of more than 10% in less than a year in numerous boroughs in the South West of the city. Indeed, many are saying that a property bubble is in the making and that only bad news rests on the horizon. However, my team have seen that as the value of land per square meter increases, that people become keener to keep it clutter free so they can maximise their financial income from it.
This has resulted in us being called out to clear and recycle rubbish from gardens so that people can build extensions and erect garden offices. Landlords are now also keen to remove their detritus from attics and basements so that they can be converted into further accommodation. In both cases the amount of this kind of stuff that can be recycled is enormous and – because a financial incentive exists – we are able to do just that.
Recycling is perceived to be an in intrinsically decent thing to do and the marketing departments of businesses have certainly noticed this. Just think about the number of car adverts that you have seen recently where manufacturers wax lyrical about their environmental credentials. Linked to this is the growth of a sense of corporate social responsibility and this leads to increased recycling. We know this is a fact because we have in the past been drafted in to work specifically so that companies can claim to use a sustainable rubbish collection provider.
In Britain perhaps the most apparent and financially enticing recycling scheme in recent years was the ‘scrappage scheme’. If people scrapped a car more than 10 years old when they bought a new one then they received £2,000. This had an unexpectedly big impact and it is now thought that it resulted in 330,000 cars being recycled properly. It is thought that if the scheme was not in place then most of these would have just been dumped or left to rot.
Germany and Switzerland both seem to have realized that money can take recycling levels to the next level. In both countries it is common practice for people to be financially rewarded for recycling things as mundane as fizzy drinks cans!
The point is that people are more willing to recycle if they are being paid to do so.