UK survey: Millennials least likely age group to recycle
- Less than half (49%) of 16- to 34-year-olds in the U.K. said they recycle "all they can," according to the results from a poll conducted by Future Thinking, on behalf of environmental services company Serco. Other age groups reported higher recycling rates: 70% of 35- to 54-year-olds said they recycle all they can; 83% of 55- to 74-year-olds said they recycle all they can; and 81% of those 75 and older said they recycle all they can.
- Of the millennials who said they don't recycle all they can, the most common responses given were confusion over what can be recycled (16%) and needing more frequent recycling collection (12%).
- Additionally, 7% of surveyed millennials said they found recycling too time-consuming and 5% indicated that they did not believe that separated waste is actually recycled.
This particular poll was conducted in the U.K., but its results align with what earlier polls and studies have shown about U.S. recyclers. A 2014 Harris poll of adults in the United States found millennials were less likely to "always recycle" than other age groups and a 2016 poll from Keep America Beautiful found 43% of U.S. millennials were skeptical that the material they put out on the curb was actually recycled.
The results of the Serco poll in the U.K., taken in combination with results from earlier polls, show a drastic need to focus on education and messaging in local recycling programs. Experts from Phoenix to Baltimore have stressed just how important it is to have good education programs with a marketing budget to make those programs effective. While there is room for debate over how to promote recycling education, the popular consensus appears to be that "guilting" people into recycling won't work. It's better, according to The Recycling Partnership's CEO Keefe Harrison, to make recycling accessible so that consumers can "recycle without thinking."
The high percentage of people that distrust the recycling process is a critical issue. As China's scrap import policies cause a small number of municipalities to stop collecting certain materials, in some cases resulting in those materials being sent to landfills, consumer confidence in recycling programs could suffer. In recent comments filed with the World Trade Organization, the Solid Waste Association of North America said this could "greatly diminish public confidence, participation and support of local recycling programs." Recycling education is even more important than usual in this shifting marketplace and consumers are clearly seeking more transparent information about how the process actually works.
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