Recycling Tracker 2020

13 October 2020

Recycling Tracker 2020 reveals levels are higher and more consistent – but still room for improvement.

The latest Recycling Tracker, WRAP’s annual survey of UK households that gathers evidence on recycling attitudes, knowledge and behaviour, is published today:

The survey, the largest and longest-running of its kind, undertook a total of 5,297 interviews in March 2020 (prior to the Covid-19 lockdown).


Key findings are: 

• Overall levels of recycling are high and an established norm.

Almost nine in ten (87 per cent) UK households say they ‘regularly’ recycle, in contrast to only just under one in ten (9 per cent) who recycle ‘occasionally’ and one in 25 (4 per cent) who recycle ‘rarely’ or ‘never’.

• Recycling is increasing and becoming more consistent.

Just over three in five (62 per cent) UK households report extra recycling of one or more items in the past year (either an item they were not previously recycling or one they were already recycling but are now recycling more often). People aged18-34, those with children at home and those who have seen the Recycle Now brand (particularly ‘Britain Recycles’, ‘Britain Does’ and Recycle Week) are more likely to report extra recycling.

• But we can still improve.

On average, UK households dispose of 1.5 items that could be recycled in the general rubbish (mainly foil, aerosols and plastic detergent or cleaning bottles). And the majority (82 per cent) mistakenly put one or more items in the recycling that are not accepted locally – on average 3.5 items (mainly plastic film/wrapping, toothpaste tubes and glass cookware or Pyrex).

When the results above are combined, the survey shows that half (50 per cent) of UK households are “higher performing recyclers”, disposing of 0-2 items from home incorrectly. 25 per cent dispose of 3-4 items from home incorrectly, while the remaining 25 per cent are “lower performing recyclers”, disposing of 5+ items incorrectly.

Peter Maddox, Director, WRAP UK, said: 

It’s very impressive that nine out of 10 of us recycles regularly, and I’m proud to know that people who have seen the Recycle Now brand are likely to recycle more. However we still have a way to go in terms of correctly identifying what can and cannot be recycled. With the support of our partners, this year including commercial partners for the first time, we aim to make Recycle Week 2020 the biggest and best yet – resulting in an increase in higher performing recyclers.

Recycling norms and habits 

Three in five (60 per cent) of UK households think the majority of those around them recycle (positive social norm), compared to 13 per cent who think that no more than half of the people in the local area recycle (negative social norm). For food waste recycling, fewer households (41 per cent) with access to a collection perceive a positive social norm while more households (32 per cent) perceive a negative norm. 

Those who perceive a strong positive norm dispose of fewer items incorrectly while those who perceive a negative norm dispose of more items incorrectly. A similar trend is evident for food waste recycling. 

Recycling motivations and barriers 

The main motivations given for recycling are ‘it’s the right thing to do’ (cited by 69 per cent of UK households), habit or routine (62 per cent), to do ‘their bit’ for the environment (62 per cent) and to avoid sending waste to landfill (59 per cent). This is followed by three specific environmental motivations – to preserve the planet’s resources (51 per cent), to help address climate change (48%) and to reduce their own carbon footprint (44 per cent). 

There has been an increase in positive environmental outlooks, with a significant increase in the proportion agreeing with the statement ‘I am prepared to make lifestyle compromises to benefit the environment’ (from 64 per cent in 2018 to 72 per cent now). It is not clear yet if this is a short-term response to 2020 or a sustained trend. 

Over three quarters (77 per cent) of UK households identify with at least one ‘barrier’ that leads to them sometimes putting items in the general rubbish rather than the recycling. The most frequently cited barrier (by 38 per cent of households) is uncertainty about what can or can’t be recycled. There are also some notable scheme or service delivery barriers – mainly a lack of recycling capacity in their recycling bin, bag or box (21 per cent) and the council not collecting enough things for recycling (20 per cent).  

However, very few (3 per cent) say “I don’t see the point in recycling”. 

Recycling Communications 

Two in three (67 per cent) UK citizens have seen the Recycle Now ‘Swoosh’ logo in the past year, and around half (51 per cent) have seen On-Pack Recycling Labelling (OPRL). Smaller proportions have seen ‘Britain Recycles’ (14 per cent) and ‘Britain Does’ (7 per cent – both recent additions in 2018. 

When the Recycle Now brand is seen there is a positive association with reported behaviour change (particularly the ‘Britain Recycles/Does’ social norm messaging). 

The role of different collection schemes 

Fewer items are disposed of incorrectly by households who have services with a restricted residual waste capacity, higher numbers of materials collected for recycling or multi-stream recycling schemes. By contrast, more items are disposed of incorrectly by households in areas where fewer items are collected for recycling and there is less restriction of residual waste capacity. 

Notes to Editor

For more information – to request interviews: 

Recycle Now: @recycle_now 

WRAP is a not for profit organisation founded in 2000 which works with governments, businesses and citizens to create a world in which we source and use resources sustainably. Our impact spans the entire lifecycle of the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the products we buy, from production to consumption and beyond.