DS Smith’s survey reveals emerging generational gap in recycling in UK

UK – New data from DS Smith has revealed an emerging generational gap in recycling in the UK – with older people more confident than the ‘binboozled’ younger generations when it comes to understanding what and how to recycle.

While Gen Z are often considered to be the most environmentally conscious, of all age groups surveyed, they have the least confidence when it comes to recycling.

According to results of a survey conducted by the firm, young people are less confident on what packaging can be recycled (66%) than those over 55 (81%), and twice as likely not to know where to find advice on recycling (11%), compared to just 4% of over 55s.

Two-thirds of Gen Z respondents (67%) blame barriers to recycling in the UK, compared to 41% of over 55s, suggesting that changes to the UK recycling infrastructure may be needed to improve recycling among the younger generation.

They cite confusion over what recyclable items go into which bins (20%) and not enough recycling bins from local authorities (16%) as issues.

Labeling is also a key factor, with 63% of Gen Z saying recycling labels on the packaging are hard to understand.

Rogier Gerritsen, Managing Director, DS Smith Recycling said: “There is no doubt that people want to play their part in helping the environment.

“The challenge is making things as simple as possible to enable people to do so. With the UK setting ambitious targets for paper and card recycling over the next decade, it’s time to re-think our approach to recycling.”

Gerritsen further explained: “Continued collaboration between policymakers, local authorities and the recycling sector is key to make sure we have a recycling infrastructure that makes it easy for consumers to understand.”

As well as the generational gap highlighted in the DS Smith research, regional recycling gaps were revealed in the government’s recent waste statistics, where it became clear that England has failed to meet the Government’s target to recycle 50% of waste from households by 2020.

The UK household recycling rate decreased from 46.0% in 2019 to 44.4% in 2020, prompting DS Smith to call for source segregation, through which household waste such as paper, glass and plastic are collected separately to drive up recycling levels.

Gerritsen concluded, “To boost recycling and help us deliver on our targets, the system needs to be simplified, with consistent collection systems and proper segregation of materials at kerbside.

“Not only would this give consumers clarity and help to increase the volume of recycling, but it would also help protect the quality of paper and card destined for recycling, meaning more material staying in use for longer.”

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