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Focus groups

As part of considering the future strategy five resident focus groups were held to understand resident views on the current service, explore barriers to recycling and enable residents to consider the future service.


Residents were selected from a cross section of viewpoint panellists who volunteered to take part. In total 42 residents attended five focus group sessions. Residents were representative of the population of South Gloucestershire. An incentive of £20 shopping voucher was offered to attendees. The groups were held at convenient times and locations appropriate to the audience.

The focus groups were independently facilitated by Resource Futures. A topic guide was used to provide the outline, content and structure of the group. The topic guide included prompts and activities to stimulate conversation but keep it structured and relevant. It included:

  • Efficiency of the current service: what works well? How could it be easier?
  • Barriers: what do people find difficult?
  • Containers: views and opinions on current containers and other options
  • Communication: what people like and how they feel about waste communication

Findings – views on recycling

Residents were initially asked about their own perception of their recycling behaviour. All had used the existing service.

  • 10 percent were keen recyclers trying to recycle everything
  • 50 percent were casual recyclers, recycling most things
  • 40 percent never or only occasionally recycled.

Almost everyone used the dry recycling service, but only half used the food recycling service.

Findings – barriers to recycling

The following were identified as barriers to recycling in South Gloucestershire:

  • Too many containers
  • Confusion over what is collected and when
  • Not understanding the service when they move into the area
  • Put off using the service by having to sort items into different containers
  • Misunderstanding – sorting is a waste of time as all goes in one vehicle
  • Would prefer a co-mingled service
  • Misunderstanding – materials end up at landfill anyway
  • People are not environmentally minded
  • Confusion over what plastics are accepted
  • Washing containers is a waste of water
  • Not sure of if labels need to be removed

The following were identified as barriers to food recycling:

  • It is messy transferring food from kitchen caddy to food bin
  • Problems with pests – maggots, flies, rats etc.
  • It is smelly
  • Containers are too small
  • Lockable caddy does not stop larger pests
  • It is not collected often enough
  • People do not know it is collected weekly
  • Using paper as a liner is messy
  • People do not know that they can use plastic bags to line food bin
  • Not available for flats

Opinions on food recycling were strongly divided, some residents though it was disgusting and revolting whilst others were positive. Residents who did not or rarely used the food recycling service seemed more open to the service when hearing positive feedback from users and that plastic bags can be used to line the kitchen caddy.

There was good understanding of some materials that can be recycled including:

  • Food waste
  • Newspaper, magazines and other paper
  • Steel cans, aluminium cans and aerosols
  • Garden waste
  • Plastic bottles, tubs and trays
  • Glass bottles and jars
  • Card and cardboard

Two areas where there was some confusion was why black plastic cannot be accepted and how to present shredded paper for collection.

There was less understanding of the following items that are collected at the kerbside:

  • Foil food trays and kitchen foil – the focus groups did not know these could be collected as long as food contamination is removed
  • Cartons – there was confusion over if it could be collected and which container should be used
  • Household batteries – the focus groups reported that they tended to take them to supermarket and reports that the old battery bag had not been replaced.
  • Small electrical items – 14 out of 42 residents at the focus group did not know that small electricals could be collected from the kerbside and did not know how to present them for collection. Only four people thought mobile phones would be accepted.
  • Shoes – over half of attendees did not know that shoes were accepted as part of the household kerbside service
  • Clothes and textiles – only 18 of 42 residents knew that clothes and textiles were accepted on the kerbside service, and there was confusion if scraps and material not suitable for reuse would be collected.
  • Car batteries – over half of the focus group did not know that car batteries were collected.

Findings – To encourage recycling and improve service

The focus group also discussed how the council could encourage more recycling and improve the service.

Topic area Ideas from the focus group
Dry Recycling
  • Simplified system
  • More frequent collections
  • Better, more robust containers
  • All material collected on the same day
  • Larger, more rigid, wheeled containers
  • Need to dispel myths on where recycling ends up
  • Fewer containers
  • Lids for boxes
  • Smaller residual bin to encourage recycling
  • Education on why residents should separate materials
  • Advice on flattening, squashing and crushing should be reiterated
  • More information on plastics required
  • Concern over calendars blowing away
  • Targeted campaigns in low participating areas
  • Residents should be told more about revenues from materials
  • Education on sustainability and environment
Food Waste
  • Provide information that caddies and bins are available for free and easy to order
  • Give more advice on how to make the process less messy
  • More regular ongoing communication
  • More communication reminders once a year is not enough
  • Information on the amount of food in black bin and how it can be used to generate electricity should be made available to residents
  • Focus group members thought rewards would encourage people to recycle
  • They liked the idea of offering vouchers for regular recyclers
  • It was suggested and supported by many at the groups that a discount on council tax could be offered for those who recycle
  • Incentives could be offered to those who use a smaller bin
  • Could rewards encourage people to steal recycling to present as their own?
  • Could there be rewards for not putting your black bin out?
  • Should be more information on discounted compost bins
  • Reward the collections crews for good practice
Service in general
  • Regular training for crews, especially in replacing containers
  • Time street cleaning crews to be in same area as the collection crews
  • More education in schools
  • Crews to help promote and provide information as they know who isn’t recycling
  • More communication on why residents are asked to do certain things

The focus group identified the following six items as priority issues for actions:

  1. Fewer and improved containers
  2. A simplified service but still collecting current materials
  3. Clearing litter after collections
  4. Training crews to replace containers properly
  5. More frequent communications
  6. Communications on why residents are asked to do certain things

Findings – smaller bins

Focus groups were asked about limiting residual waste. The groups identified the following possible issues and how they could be reduced:

Possible problems / issues Ideas to mitigate possible issues
  • Fly tipping
  • Increase in side waste
  • Overfilled bins
  • Problems for large families
  • Perception of paying more council tax for less service
  • Increase in complaints and calls to contact centre
  • May not persuade people to start recycling
  • Introduce weekly recycling
  • Information needed on why it is being introduced
  • Trial smaller bins first
  • Offer rewards for non-recyclers who start to recycle

Findings – communication

The focus groups reported they used the website for what can and cannot be recycled, but did report that information can be hard to find. People also check the bin hanger but reported that they did not always receive one. Many attendees felt the hangers could be put through the door. A few people mentioned that when they ring the contact centre, waiting times and multiple options can be frustrating. Residents at the focus group were disappointed that South Gloucestershire News would not be available printed.

The following ideas were suggested as ways to communicate about waste:

  • Social media
  • Parish magazines
  • Email
  • Housing associations
  • Estate agents
  • Schools education
  • Include information with council tax bill
  • Leaflets in public places – libraries, leisure centres, supermarkets etc.


The focus groups provided useful information on the current service, barriers and how it could be improved. The following points summarise the findings from the focus groups:

  1. Weekly recycling collections
  2. Simplified service – all material on the same day
  3. Reduced number of containers and options to mix materials in the same containers
  4. Containers that are more robust, that are rigid and have lids
  5. Better labels on what to put in containers
  6. Option of a trolley
  7. Litter pickers should follow collections
  8. Reduce residual capacity but fly tipping needs to be managed
  9. Good communication required with any service change
  10. Tell people where savings will be spent
  11. Education on recycling, litter and environmental issues in schools

Relevance to strategy

A number of recommendations can be drawn from the focus groups and will have been incorporated into the strategy:

  1. The introduction of weekly recycling which will make the service simpler and easy to use.
  2. Reducing number of containers and providing containers that are more robust.
  3. Reduction of residual capacity needs careful consideration for managing any increase in fly tipping
  4. Good communication regarding any service change and linking to where savings will be spent
  5. Continuing education on recycling, litter and environmental issues in schools