This paper summarises the findings of a social research project carried out by an independent research company on behalf of the South London Waste Partnership in 2019.
The Communications Advisor provided the Committee with a presentation, a copy of which was included within the agenda papers. The presentation gave an overview of the results of a survey undertaken by the independent research company, DJS Research, which included over 1,000 telephone interviews across the four boroughs and 350 booster surveys around the Beddington site. The Committee were informed that the results of the survey were compared with the previous four surveys which had been undertaken and would help inform the development of the Communications Strategy which would be taken to the next meeting of the Committee.
Highlights from the survey were raised by the Communications Advisor and included; a significant increase in residents’ commitment to recycle since 2010 however a lower level of commitment from those aged 16 to 34 which was concerning and would require addressing (although progress had been made with this age group since the last survey in 2016).
Driven by significant changes to collection services the survey found that residents felt they were recycling more and producing less waste. This had been reflected in the levels of tonnage of waste collected, however it was positive to see that residents felt that there had been a change in their behaviour.
It was noted that the survey raised a concern that fewer people, 38% from 43%, felt that their own individual efforts ‘made a difference’. The Communications Advisor stated this would be an area of focus in future years.
Members noted that residents were increasingly becoming more realistic in terms of the amount of their waste which was being recycled and realistic ambitions for recycling rates in the next five years’ time. It was felt that this would help future information campaigns. It was further encouraging that 96% of respondents felt it was important that there was a reduction in the amount of waste sent to landfill.
The survey included a question of what should be done with non-recyclable waste and it was noted that a third of responders suggested it should be burnt/incinerated/treated to recover energy. It was stated that there was no prompting when the question was asked. A subsequent question was whether the resident was aware of the Energy Recovery Facility (ERF) in Beddington; overall 32% of respondents were aware of the site with the figure rising to 43% in the six wards closest to the site. Once prompted, it was noted that 66% of residents surveyed agreed that incineration was a good option for non-recyclable waste.
Given the large changes to the waste collection and street cleaning services, the survey included questions on these services and found a net satisfaction rate of 64% for waste collection. The Communications Advisor stated that the satisfaction rate should increase as the services bed in and that the current level was not bad given the level of change. In terms of street cleanliness the satisfaction level was only 54% on residential roads and dropped to 46% for town centre streets. It was stated that the Partnership wanted to see those levels increase as the service beds in.
Members of the public questioned whether the Communications Strategy, which was being developed, would align with the goal of zero carbon and be ambitious in encouraging people to achieve this. The view of the member of the public was that, in order to support the zero carbon ambitions, communications would need to be changed from the ERF being the best option for waste disposal at the present time. Furthermore, members of the public stated that the report was disingenuous as there had not been any information about the negative impacts of the ERF which would help to inform members of the public.
In response to questions from the public, the Strategic Partnership Manager stated that businesses had the opportunity to arrange their own waste collection contracts and so it was not always possible to encourage them to reduce their waste also, however it was an area the Partnership could look into.
The Communications Advisor, in response to questions from members of the public stated that it was in fact cheaper for the councils to recycle than to send waste to the ERF as well as being the preferred option in terms of the environment. Furthermore, it was noted that the report outlined the results of a survey on residents’ views only and it would not be possible to provide information at the same time as that could skew the results. It was an information gathering exercise as opposed to a communications one - the results would inform the Partnership’s Communications Strategy which would aim to inform and persuade.
Concerns were raised by members of the public in relation to the ERF and the information available, whilst the Chair stated that he personally had not always been in total agreement regarding the ERF, the Partnership was working together as it was recognised that incineration was better than landfill. The officers of the Partnership sought to work towards the best outcomes for the four councils and to work towards the key objectives of reduce, reuse, recycle. To support those objectives and to ensure the Partnership was able to respond to changes in technology there was flexibility written into the contract.
In response to Member questions the Communications Advisor stated that they did not have the data on which respondents lived in houses or flats and the different responses. Recycling from flats was, nonetheless, an area of focus for the Partnership as it was recognised that there were greater levels of contamination at flat recycling facilities and it was imperative that contamination levels were reduced. It was further recognised that living conditions, such as communal housing, limited space and house sharing could have an impact on younger people’s commitment to recycle.
RESOLVED: To note the findings of the social research project.