Aleksandra Besevic, 29th January 2021
The household is full of products ranging from food, clothing and general appliances. Each product in a household at some point is disposed of. Waste is generated by activities and practices of households. It is important to consider the wider disposal practices of households because these disposal practices can impact storage space and shopping frequency. In our research to understand how UK householders manage single-use plastics in their home, we explored the dominance of the kerbside collection in influencing behaviour and also other options which they utilised to manage plastic waste.
Disposal practices in the UK are aided by waste reduction policy and prevention schemes. Each local council provided bins or containers for the disposal of waste and offer kerbside collection schemes which can influence behaviour. All 27 household decision makers in our study stated that they recycled plastic via kerbside collection from their council ‘if possible’. This was generally the first option considered:
Plastic is recycled as much as possible, according to the council’s regulationsParticipant 4
These entries support the notion that recycling is undertaken as a normal and routine household practice. Our study revealed the power of the regulations of the local council in determining what is and is not recycled. Determining what could be recycled via kerbside collection was the first thing that householders considered and the mechanism which would be prioritised about others for convenience.
It is important to consider that for household decision makers to participate in recycling schemes an adequate local infrastructure is needed to ensure success. Each council collects its plastic recycling differently and this can cause confusion to household decision makers. In addition, information from the council is often required to inform household decision makers of the options to recycle and the facilities located nearby.
Alternatives to kerbside
Participants also indicated that some households are part of local and wider recycling schemes. Families may also be involved in reducing plastic with school initiatives which can aid involvement in recycling.
Our kerb recycling only takes plastic bottles, so they go in there. Stretchy plastics go in the carrier bag bin at the supermarket, and [our local] Primary School takes a selection of other plastics that are accepted by terracycle. Other plastics unfortunately go in the general waste binParticipant 15
Other householders discussed how they take the opportunity to reuse plastic when kerbside collection was not available. Household decision makers shared how they prioritised reusing plastic where possible:
I wash and reuse any plastic bags that look strong and clean – they can be used for storing the organic veg that we have delivered… We’ve been reusing some of our empty single use boxes that came with soft fruit or tomatoes in for growing herbs or little salad leaves from seedParticipant 14
Although reusing plastic takes additional effort it can be useful in other areas of the household such as the garden. The ease of reusing is linked to willingness to engage in such behaviour. The way in which a household decision makers perform, repeat and renew a product can determine the overall waste of the household.
Certainly in the absence of recycling facilities and schemes it would be challenging for a household to recycle responsibly. Overall, for household decision makers to participate in recycling it requires time and labour, increasingly sorting through waste. It is not as easy as just taking the bin out. An efficient waste disposal system heavily relies on households taking the effort to manage the process.
For more findings from our research project, check out our Re-thinking Ethical Consumerism: Report two: Householder Perspectives from Photo Elicitation and Diary Study