Battle of the Bins! Brits face tensions over recycling

After over a decade of stagnating and declining recycling rates, new research from DS Smith has revealed that more than 79% of people across the UK are regularly frustrated, disappointed or furious with neighbours, partners and children – because they don’t crush or fold their recycling, leading to overflowing bins.

Up to 7.8 m Brits admit to being ‘Folding-Phobic’, saying they don’t fold cardboard, which means items are taking up more space. 15% (up to 9 m adults) admit to not bothering to recycle at all, and instead, just put it all in the waste bin regardless of whether they can recycle it or not.  The research suggests that these issues may be worsened by the UK recycling system, which has not been updated for some time and could be failing to cope with the increase in packaging in our homes, particularly since the growth in e-commerce.

Etiquette expert, Jo Bryant, has created some helpful tips to follow to avoid recycling rifts, including:

  • Make the most of what you have: break down and flatten cardboard boxes.
  • Tidy bin, tidy mind: make sure you place all your recycling in the bin properly, and don’t create mess by dropping small pieces of litter around the area.
  • Make the effort, when you can: it may be tempting to just chuck things into landfill, but this only leads to bad recycling habits.
  • Lead by example: show others how to recycle well and with consideration for the whole community.
  • Reach out to help out: communal recycling bins are there for the community so it is good form to think about others who may need your help.

When asked about the barriers people face when it comes to recycling, a third (33%) of respondents cited a lack of necessary space or access to their recycling bin as a key inhibitor to effective recycling. Those living in flats and with communal bins were 25% more likely to face challenges than people with individual household recycling bins. In turn, this is resulting in as many as 58 m cardboard boxes every week either ending up in general waste or being recycled at a later date, if they end up being recycled at all. There are three key drivers behind the increase in cardboard hoarding:

  • Volume: 50% are ordering more to their homes than before the pandemic with 42% prioritising products packaged in cardboard rather than plastic;
  • Bin-adequate: 26% say its due to the inadequate provision of recycling bins;
  • Distance: those using communal recycling systems are 16% less likely to recycle cardboard boxes because of the distance to recycling bins.

Bryant said, “Recycling and recycling well – for example folding cardboard down to make it as small as possible – is part of being in a society, and it is important that we all play our part with consideration and respect towards others. Small, thoughtless gestures, such as taking up an extra seat on a train with luggage or not holding a door open, can impact negatively on others and lead to frustration and tension. So, when it comes to recycling, notably with communal bins, bad habits can quickly lead to frustrations, disappointment and anger with neighbours and the people we live with. The more space one person uses, the less there is for the next, so taking the extra time to fold down cardboard is a quick, considerate and easy action that avoids irritation and hostility. As the research shows, we need to do more to help each other, so next time you are putting out your recycling, think beyond the bin and take a moment to check your recycling manners.”

Michael Oyre, Managing Director, Recycling, DS Smith, commented, “With more people shopping online and more packaging coming to our homes, collection systems are sometimes struggling to cope with the increased volumes of cardboard. Most of us agree that we must look after resources and keep them in use for as long as possible. Cardboard is no different, as it is a renewable resource that can be easily recycled. If people can flatten their cardboard, it helps to maximise the available space in our recycling bins, but we also need to make sure we have the right infrastructure in place to support better recycling. By maximising the amount of cardboard packaging we recycle, we in turn protect our natural resources and contribute to the move towards a more circular economy.”

Join our Newsletter

Sign up to our weekly newsletters for updates on articles, interviews and events

Sign up