Team of volunteers try to get people to recycle
Southwark currently recycles 22% of its waste and has the second-worst recycling participation rate of any local authority in England but hopes to get more people to recycle by sending out a volunteer taskforce in a door-to-door campaign. Factors contributing to this low recycling rate include diverse housing stock requiring different collection schemes, a transient and diverse population, and cramped housing ill-fitted to accommodate bulky recycling paraphernalia.
The Southwark Recycling Champion project is a pilot scheme testing the viability and efficacy of trained volunteers doing recycling outreach work in the borough, on its estates with low participation figures where as few as 6% of households recycle. Grounded in appealing theory, the idea is that residents will be more receptive to the recycling message if it is delivered by people who have some personal stake in the neighbourhood. Rather than a salaried ‘worker’ doorstepping and leafleting as part of their job; a champion ‘volunteer’ is someone who thinks recycling is so important they will go door knocking to convert their neighbours to the cause.
My choice of ‘convert’ is marked as it is usually religious groups who go door-to-door; instead of spreading the word of god, we went armed with leaflets about local recycling collection services. It was a strange thing to volunteer for, as we were without charitable objectives, and we weren’t exactly canvassing for them to recycle. Indeed, we rather eschewed the point.
Get people to recycle by giving out leaflets
Instead, we each adopted a block on the estate, introduced ourselves as Recycling Champions, told residents about an upcoming prize draw, and invited people to attend a Recycling Fun Day, with recycling-themed games and activities for children. We tried our best to answer any queries about recycling, which in practice turned out to be fielding complaints about the collection service, and promising to pass them on.
I was surprised by how pleasantly accommodating residents to whom I spoke were, considering my call was unsolicited, and that my visit had evidently roused two householders from their Saturday lie-in A fair proportion was positively enthusiastic about recycling and keen to ask general questions about where it goes etc. Only one resident, a trendy-looking guy with statement glasses told me he was ‘Just not interested’.
But will efforts of the Recycling Champions have made any difference? In a couple of weeks data gathered from monitoring the number of clear bags residents put out for collection will demonstrate whether our volunteer hours made any measurable difference, in the short-term at least. As I only spoke with twelve householders – the 87 others didn’t answer – it’s unlikely that there’ll be a quantifiable difference in recycling participation for my block, Strood House. For a real impact to be made more householders would need to be reached. This is because a flyer alone will not compel people to change their behaviour. Or, the Recycling Champions would need to revisit the estate and become a familiar and on-going presence, perhaps with campaign stall people were able approach with their recycling-related queries, hopefully becoming engaged with the issue through casual conversation.
Will the recycling volunteers continue trying to get people to recycle?
Recycling Champions will not be an ongoing volunteering opportunity, for me at least, because I have already benefited from the training and fulfilled my initial commitment. I have no personal connection to the Tabard Garden Estate, and therefore no especial stake in inspiring its residents to recycle. There are many more worthy and interesting things to volunteer one’s time for than posting recycling leaflets through letter boxes, which means I’ll stick to proper volunteering in future. I would like to get more people to recycle, because I think recycling is important, but this role would only be worthwhile if it were a paid job within recycling outreach.