Lifting the lid on students’ recycling habits

23rd October 2015 Posted by

Clocks are changing, the weather turns and the new academic year is in a full swing. Universities and colleges are overflowing with a sea of ‘fresh’ faces, and this brings new challenges to everybody involved in managing activities on campus.

SUEZ and NUS (the National Union of Students), conducted research into the recycling habits of students which highlighted actions to help higher education institutions improve their environmental performance. Identifying students’ attitudes towards recycling was a prerequisite to this study.

The research findings were published in a report entitled  Lifting the Lid: Student attitudes and behaviours towards recycling and waste, and discovered some interesting truths about recycling in higher education facilities – revealing that subtle changes could have a big impact on recycling levels amongst students.

According to the study, almost 10 per cent of students do not recycle at all, and around half of these non-recyclers are first year students. The worst offenders for not recycling are ‘freshers’ living in halls. Nearly half of the students surveys said they wouldn’t recycle if extra effort was required and only 34 per cent claimed that they recycle everything that can be recycled.


There is a clear gap between the proportion of committed recyclers within the student population and the UK as a whole – 55 per cent of students are committed recyclers, compared to 75 per cent of the UK population.

The survey group, comprising more than, 2,500 students, identified that the biggest barriers to recycling are a lack of awareness about the recycling collection and a perception that no one else in their accommodation recycles. Only one third of students feel that on-campus recycling systems are convenient and easy to use.

Almost half of students living off campus are unfamiliar with the recycling system on campus and over quarter of those living on campus also admit to being unfamiliar with the system.

Communicating with an audience inundated with new information can be challenging – half of students that took part in the research said that they don’t remember receiving any information about recycling.

Recycling and sustainable practices have never been more important to higher education institutions, so engaging with the new students as early as possible is crucial.

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