Recycling: Now is not the time to take our foot off the gas

7 September 2021

WRAP research conducted throughout 2020 showed that Covid-19, the associated lockdown, and the social distancing measures that were put in place across the UK had a profound impact on our attitudes to the environment.

WRAPs Recycling Tracker is the largest and longest running survey of its kind. Over recent years the research, conducted for WRAP’s Recycle Now brand, has observed a 13% increase in the proportion of UK citizens prepared to make lifestyle compromises to benefit the environment’. The proportion agreeing with this statement rose from 64% in 2018 to 68% in 2019 and then rose again to 73% in June 2020. What’s more, in June 2020 the proportion of UK citizens that agree that ‘everyone has a responsibility to help towards cleaning up the environment’ increased from 88% in 2019 to 93% in 2020. The opposite is true of those agreeing that ‘recycling is too much hassle to bother with, which has almost halved from 14% in 2019 to just 8% in 2020.

The trends towards greater environmental awareness observed in the research are also reflected in our most recent research into the attitudes and behaviours of UK citizens to clothing. Conducted for WRAP’s Love Your Clothes consumer brand, the research found that 50% of UK citizens are willing to go out of their way to avoid generating clothing waste, whilst still keen to identify as presentable and smart in appearance, they are concerned about the impact clothing has on the environment. This group of UK citizens has grown, up from 31% in 2017. WRAP also observed almost a 40% reduction in the proportion of UK citizens that believe that the impact of clothing on the environment is not that server. This has been a steady decline in from 18% in 2017 to 15% in 2019 before dropping further still to 11% in May 2020.

The positive changes in attitudes that we’ve observed over recent years are important. As the UK’s awareness of our impact on the environment is re-enforced, pro-environmental attitudes strengthen more citizens become malleable to WRAPs environmentally conscious behavioural messaging.

As a nation our commitment to recycling has grown during what was a challenging year. However, we know that context is a big influence on behaviour and major external shocks can bring about significant change but that is not always maintained. As we emerge from lockdowns and resume some of the activities that were the norm back in 2019, we are aware that some of the positive things to emerge from lockdown may decline.

WRAPs Citizen Behaviour change programme is building the positive changes through its citizen facing brand Recycle Now with campaigns and behaviour change interventions to further the realisation of its vision of a future in which resources are used sustainably. Our annual Recycle Week is a perfect example. Nine in ten UK citizens now recycle, but most of us could do more and that is why Recycle Now will unite the nation against climate change, with the theme of: ‘Step It Up this Recycle Week’.  Will you?

Mark Roberts, Lead Analyst, WRAP