Do real men recycle?

Who’s collecting the ripped-up wrapping paper and discarded packaging from the carpet in your home this Christmas? Who will compost the left over sprouts and take the babycham bottles to bottlebank? Will the Furby box be heading for the landfill or will your green halo shine as your blue bin bulges?

As the nation braces itself for the onslaught of food, drink, festivities and gift-giving, new research shows it will be the woman of the house who will take on the most part of the recycling of the diverse waste generated by the season of good will. Men living on their own were the least likely recyclers of all.

The study, Patterns of Household Practice by Hazel Pettifor at the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex, looked at the housework and recycling habits of households in the UK’s biggest panel survey, Understanding Society, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. Over 2,000 single men and women and 3,000 couples were questioned over their housework habits and whether or not they separated waste for recycling.

The results show that couples have the edge with better eco-credentials than their singleton neighbours.

Single people living alone are the less likely to recycle than couples (65 per cent). Single men however, were the worst culprits as 69 per cent of single women did recycle while only 58 per cent of men living alone could be bothered.

For those men living with the opposite sex however, if they were active in sharing housework they were just as likely to be sharing in recycling. Recycling is now likely to be a shared activity in around a quarter of all households, but Ms Pettifor concludes it is not a cross-gender job in most couples.

“ Women still do the most part of waste separation in most households, but there’s no strong evidence that they are assimilating recycling into their domestic routine. In the same way that housework tasks are still often split with the woman of the house taking on day to day cleaning and menfolk taking on jobs such as mowing the lawn or DIY, it is likely that recycling women are the ones to take on the daily tasks such as rinsing out containers and removing labels, while recycling men may be more inclined to take bottles down to the bottle bank or put the bins out."

“The most interesting finding in the study is that men appear to need the incentive of kerbside collection to engage whereas women were prepared to go out of their way to recycle more types of materials.”

The study sheds light on potential spending saves for local authorities looking to reduce the amount of waste households throw into expensive landfill sites. Targeting men for more green messages and increasing the ease of kerbside collection might make it a little more straight forward for real men to recycle.

Patterns of Household Practice – An examination into the relationship between housework and waste separation in UK households by Hazel Pettifor was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and is published by the Institute for Social and Economic Research Working Paper Series at the University of Essex.

Listen to our podcast with Hazel Pettifor.


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