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  • Battle of the Bins: 80% of Brits face weekly tensions with family, friends and neighbours over recycling

80% of Brits face tensions with family and neighbours over recycling

• 79% of Brits regularly frustrated, disappointed or furious with the people they live with over bin etiquette and un-flattened cardboard
• More than 7.8 million Brits admit to being ‘Folding-Phobic’, i.e. not folding cardboard before putting it into recycling
• 1 in 4 (26%) say their recycling efforts are hampered by overflowing bins, as 60% say cardboard is now being stored at home for more than a week

After over a decade of stagnating and declining recycling rates, new research from DS Smith, the leading provider of sustainable packaging solutions, has revealed that more than 79% of people across the UK are regularly frustrated, disappointed or furious with neighbours, partners and children – because they don’t crush or fold their recycling, leading to overflowing bins.

Up to 7.8 million Brits admit to being ‘Folding-Phobic’, saying they don’t fold cardboard, which means items are taking up more space. 15% (up to 9 million adults) admit to not bothering to recycle at all, and instead, just put it all in the waste bin regardless of whether they can recycle it or not.

The research suggests that these issues may be worsened by the UK recycling system, which has not been updated for some time and could be failing to cope with the increase in packaging in our homes, particularly since the growth in e-commerce.

Bin overflowing with cardboard
Bin overflowing with cardboard

Etiquette expert, Jo Bryant, has created some helpful tips to follow to avoid recycling rifts, including:

Make the most of what you have

  • Break down and flatten your cardboard boxes. Whether it’s a big delivery box or a small piece of packaging, any kind of unflattened empty box takes up unnecessary space, making it harder for other people to use the bin. If it’s communal, then it’s even more important – be considerate and make plenty of space for other people’s recycling.

Tidy bin, tidy mind

  • Make sure you place all your recycling in the bin properly, and don’t create mess by dropping small pieces of litter around the area. Make sure your items are placed firmly in the bin, making sensible use of the available space. Avoid leaving anything hanging over the edge or sitting loosely on top which may prevent others from using the bin effectively.

Make the effort, when you can

  • It may be tempting to just chuck things into landfill, but this only leads to bad recycling habits (and we all know we must do our bit). Get into a good recycling routine – flattening cardboard boxes is a good starting point to avoid recycling overwhelm in a small space.

Lead by example

  • Show others how to recycle well and with consideration for the whole community. If your neighbours see you putting flattened cardboard carefully into the recycling bin, then it is likely they will follow your lead and be neat and tidy too. Equally, setting a good example to children and young adults in your family leads to good future habits – make putting out the recycling a family effort.

Reach out to help out

  • Communal recycling bins are there for the community so, as a member of that community, it is good form to think about others who may need your help. Elderly and less-able neighbours may not only struggle to flatten their cardboard, but may also face challenges when taking recycling to the bin – offer to help them out each week.

Flatten existing tensions

  • If you are sharing a bin with Folding-Phobes and messy recyclers, then avoid aggression and confrontation. Communicate calmly and constructively, explaining the problem and giving a solution – for example, it’s very messy and the bin is overflowing, so please flatten cardboard etc. Use a local messaging or social media group or, if you feel up to it, a light and gentle face-to-face chat can work wonders.

When asked about the barriers people face when it comes to recycling, a third (33%) of respondents cited a lack of necessary space or access to their recycling bin as a key inhibitor to effective recycling. Those living in flats and with communal bins were 25% more likely to face challenges than people with individual household recycling bins. In turn, this is resulting in as many as 58 million cardboard boxes every week[1] either ending up in general waste or being recycled at a later date, if they end up being recycled at all.

There are three key drivers behind the increase in cardboard hoarding[2]:

  • Volume: 50% are ordering more to their homes than before the pandemic with 42% prioritising products packaged in cardboard rather than plastic
  • Bin-adequate: 26% say its due to the inadequate provision of recycling bins
  • Distance: those using communal recycling systems e.g. in flats, are 16% less likely to recycle cardboard boxes because of the distance to recycling bins[3] 

" Small, thoughtless gestures, such as taking up an extra seat on a train with luggage or not holding a door open, can impact negatively on others and lead to frustration and tension. 

So, when it comes to recycling, notably with communal bins, bad habits can quickly lead to frustrations, disappointment and anger with neighbours and the people we live with. The more space one person uses, the less there is for the next, so taking the extra time to fold down cardboard is a quick, considerate and easy action that avoids irritation and hostility. As the research shows, we need to do more to help each other, so next time you are putting out your recycling, think beyond the bin and take a moment to check your recycling manners.”

"Most of us agree that we must look after resources and keep them in use for as long as possible. Cardboard is no different, as it is a renewable resource that can be easily recycled. If people can flatten their cardboard, it helps to maximise the available space in our recycling bins, but we also need to make sure we have the right infrastructure in place to support better recycling. By maximising the amount of cardboard packaging we recycle, we in turn protect our natural resources and contribute to the move towards a more circular economy."

[1] ONS, 2021

[2] People keeping hold of cardboard as opposed to recycling it

[3] ‘My bins are not accessible to me – they are too far away’