The Recycling Tracker is the largest and longest running survey on recycling attitudes, values and behaviours. The Spring 2021 survey had a detailed focus on contamination, with previous waves of the tracker pointing to an increasing trend.

The March 2021 wave was undertaken with a total of 4,725 UK adults from 6-12 March 2021. Overall, the survey demonstrates the following:

The Tracker results demonstrate four key findings about recycling behaviour: 

  1. Overall levels of recycling are high and an established norm: Almost nine in ten (88%) UK households say they ‘regularly’ recycle. 
  2. Just over half of UK households (52%) say they have recycled more in the past year: either an item they were not previously recycling or one they were already recycling but now do so more often. 
  3. There remain opportunities to increase recycling capture: over half (55%) of UK households put one or more items in the general rubbish that is collected for recycling kerbside (1.6 items on average). 
  4. There is also a key opportunity to reduce contamination: the majority (85%) of UK households put one or more items in the recycling that is not accepted locally (4.4 items on average). 
  5. When missed capture and contamination are combined close to one in four (24%) UK households classify as the highest performing recyclers (because they dispose of 0-2 items incorrectly). In contrast, one in five (20%) classify as lower performing recyclers (because they dispose of 10+ items incorrectly).  

The research also took a closer look at contamination and its causes.

The research suggests that contamination is largely the result of well-intentioned or misplaced attempts to recycle, as opposed to a lack of concern or care. For example, of those mistakenly putting drinking glasses in the recycling, the vast majority (86%) think that it is accepted in their kerbside collection.

The same pattern is true for other key contaminants, such as toothpaste tubes (84% think it is accepted in their collection) and light bulbs (72%).

Download the full report, summary slides and key findings infographic below.

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  • Recycling Tracker 2021 report

    PDF, 404.29 KB

  • Recycling Tracker 2021 summary slides

    PDF, 629.08 KB

  • Recycling Tracker 2021 key findings infographic

    PDF, 362.71 KB