Department of Economics

Examining the variation in household recycling across the UK

Although the UK has made dramatic progress in increasing its recycling levels, rising from less than 1% in the early 1980's to just over 40% now, we still have to reach 50% by 2020

Our researchers discuss the projects investigating recycling and environmental economics.

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Given that it will be increasingly difficult to make further gains in recycling levels, our researchers have been investigating the key factors that drive household recycling. The findings from our research have contributed to policy development in the South West of England.

This research is part of an ongoing programme of research with collaborators Professor Andrew Abbott from the University of Hull and Professor Shasikanta Nandeibam from the University of Bath.

Our aim was to find out what aspects of the quality of recycling and residual waste collections had the biggest impacts on recycling performance as well as how factors such as age and household type impacted on the level of recycling.

Amongst our results we found that the level of recycling actually moves in the opposite direction to how frequently bin collections are made. That is, if the household's waste is collected more frequently its level of recycling goes down.

We also found in later research that the higher the density of housing (relatively more flat-dwellers), the lower the recycling performance. There was also evidence of a recycling norm: a common assumption of expected recycling levels.

We are hoping to develop further a behavioural model related to recycling and also to look at what aspects from the supply-side affect recycling performance.