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Student steps up to the challenge of reviewing Council's recycling communication strategy

Friday, 23 August 2019 08:51

STEP student Sophie Elliott is completing a five-week project with Douglas Borough Council to devise a communications strategy should there be changes to the Council’s recycling operation in the Borough.


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Sophie, 20, is mid-way through a four-year Master’s degree course in Psychology with Innovation at the University of Bristol. She said: ‘The project is about finding out about the “pain points” that deter householders from recycling, or recycling more, then coming up with a strategy that sets out why they should be recycling and how to make the process more acceptable.


‘Around 2000 responses were received to an online survey the Council conducted, which showed that people care about their environment and the importance of recycling, which was really encouraging. A lot of the respondents, though, were already recycling, so it’s important that we reach those people who aren’t.’


Sophie also conducted one-to-one interviews with members of the public. ‘I found that a large percentage of people I spoke to had no idea where their household waste went; most thought it was sent to the energy from waste plant to be incinerated. It isn’t; it’s sent to plants in the UK to be processed.


‘The Council’s Waste team put a lot of work into raising awareness about the importance of recycling and its “” website is very good, with lots of useful information. My task is to increase awareness even further, though.’


Sophie’s research has seen her draw on psychology studies of recycling promotion strategies in Los Angeles. She also looked at how recycling is being encouraged in the UK.


She said: ‘In Los Angeles, recycling was made to seem the social norm. There, leaflet drops worked well but what proved far more effective were door hangers, which meant householders had to engage directly with the message.


‘Given there was such a positive outcome, I’m now looking at door hangers as part of the Council’s awareness-raising communications strategy, supported by the website and a series of 11 different types of “Keep calm and go to” roadside posters. In that way the hope is that recycling will become part of every householder’s daily routine, rather than a chore to be endured.


‘From my research it’s clear the Isle of Man is trying hard to encourage people to recycle but there’s a long way to go, though, seeing as the current recycling rate in Douglas is currently only around eight per cent, a slight increase from the previous month, showing the team’s effort is paying off, albeit modestly. Ratepayers in Douglas need to understand that the more they recycle, the more gets taken out of the waste stream, and that means the Council attracts fewer gate fees at the energy from waste plant. All of which results in less impact on the rates.


‘I’ve had a lot of great support from the Council through working on this project, which I’ve found really interesting. I’ve learned a lot about recycling; like a lot of people I’d always thought most rubbish was sent to be burnt. I’ve also had the opportunity to develop my communication skills, work on my own initiative and, in the process, this has boosted my self-confidence. What’s been really great though, is to be able to see a project through from start to finish…and hopefully to have made a difference to how people in Douglas might view recycling in future.’


Find out more about recycling here.