Viridor uses 'pester power' to get recycling moving

Written by: Editorial staff | Published:

While the UK public instinctively wants to do the right thing – and put the right stuff in the right bin - 64% are confused about what could be recycled, according to Viridor's 2016 Recycling Index.

The recycling specialist says there is work to be done in terms of innovation from packing manufacturers and the recycling industry and notes the more than 400 different recycling systems across the UK continues to be a challenge, but maintains a great deal can be achieved through education and “pester power”.

Pester power involves inspiring children with the recycling and circular economy messages and then encouraging them to take this home with a pledge to change the behaviour of their household.

Viridor has invested in education centres staffed by officers tasked with sharing the recycling and renewable energy from waste message.

School pupils come to Viridor plants and learn about recycling, how that which can’t be recycled is transformed to create renewable energy but that much of what is recyclable finds its way into residual waste instead.

Denise Catley, Viridor’s education business partner, said last year Viridor centres hosted 19,327 visitors, many of them children.

She said: “Our simple message to pupils is centred on reducing and re-using things first, then we move on to ‘right stuff, right bin’ for recycling and renewable energy recovery. We also introduce the concept of the circular economy and the fact that everything we throw away is made from our earth’s resources.”

Catley said visits led to pupils going home and teaching their family about recycling and in many cases pledging to change their behaviour.

She pointed out that some children really surprised the education officers with what they knew about what happened to waste but most impressive was how deeply they cared about the environment at such a young age.

She said: “I think all our education teams feel a great sense of satisfaction when children and teachers say that it is the best visit they have ever been on and when they go away wanting to change the world which they can in fact do.”

Viridor education and visitor centre officer Jessica Baker-Pike, based at the Ardley Energy Recovery Facility in Oxfordshire, reported they had more than 1,000 students from key stage two, three and four at the site last year and engaged with another 350 off site.

Baker-Pike explained that visits to the education centre fitted in with global citizenship classes, geography and science, technology and mathematics (STEM) classes.

What the pupils know about recycling varied but the education officers believe that, while lessons in recycling can start at any age, eight is considered a good age for children to absorb the message.

Baker-Pike said: “There are always students that get it and you can see when they suddenly understand or when you’ve said something which really interests them. I know they are the householders of the future and that they do share information with their parents. The younger visitors to our centres love to feel empowered to become their parent’s teachers. They deeply care about nature and we like the fact that we can give the older secondary school students aspirations and insight into careers (in waste management) which changes lives.”

Pupils are encouraged to think about the message “right stuff, right bin”, ensure recyclable materials are clean and dry and that batteries are separated from all other material.

Baker-Pike said: “We tell them that humans are the only organism to create waste and that we are all responsible for our resources, protecting nature and our environment. it was fascinating how pupils from different schools came to the same conclusions about how to make recycling easier – such as smart bin technology, bins with scanners and voice activation and QR codes printed on packaging as part of a joined-up sorting process."

In Scotland, the team at Viridor’s Glasgow Recycling and Renewable Energy Centre, which has hosted around a 1,000 pupils over the past three years, said they found the recycling message really captured pupils’ imagination and that “light bulb moment” was very rewarding “especially since they can’t wait to take that information home to their families”.

A spokesman said: “The school visits inspire us as it is so rewarding to educate young minds on recycling, the environment, sustainability and all that we are doing at Viridor. To then see them go away and use that information to create something magical back at school, is so rewarding. One of our school classes videoed us and recreated it to make a film of their own at school – with mini presenters.”

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