Online searches show Brits care more about weight loss than recycling

Brits look up tips to lose weight, delete Instagram, and make pancakes over 70,000 times more than recycling advice every month, according to recent online search engine data.

Around 8.5 billion Google searches are made globally every day. This includes millions in the UK that provide a good indicator of topics of interest to the public. But how many relate to recycling? Fewer than the number of people looking up ‘Barbie dream house’ combined it seems (36,000 searches a month).

According to what we’re searching online, most of us are more interested in learning how to solve a Rubik’s cube than finding out where to recycle batteries. With household recycling rates stagnating across the past ten years in the UK, could few searches for recycling tips and information signal a dwindling lack of interest in recycling by the British public?

over shoulder of man using Google on laptop with a coffee.

What does Business Waste think about 
low recycling search volumes?

“Data about what we search for online provides a clear indication of the topics that are most important to the general public,” says Business Waste representative Mark Hall. “For example, over spring and summer searches for Oppenheimer and Barbie rocketed as anticipation for both blockbuster films grew.

“Recycling isn’t seasonal, it’s a year-round activity. Unfortunately, our research suggests limited interest in learning how to recycle all sorts of materials in the home and workplace.”

“If few people are looking up how to recycle things like plastic bottles and bags, then it’s no surprise that recycling rates in the UK aren’t improving.”

Top ‘How to recycle…’ searches

To get a good idea of what items and materials Brits are most interested in recycling we looked at the most common search terms starting with ‘how to recycle…’ by volume. This was done using the Keywords Explorer tool from Ahrefs – provider of leading SEO (search engine optimisation) tools – and filtering to UK results.

The results highlight that people search most for information about how to recycle common materials like plastic, paper, and glass. Trickier items to recycle like polystyrene and light bulbs are also high on the list, as well as searches for recycling methods for the latest trend that’s hard to recycle – vapes.

These are some of the most searched-for ‘how to recycle…’ terms every month in the UK:

how to recycle search terms chart.

People use different terms and phrases to search for recycling-related information, so we looked at some general recycling search volumes too. There were more of these. But given 92% of people in the UK use the internet and there are around 5.5 million businesses, it’s still very low.

recycling search terms chart.

Top ‘How to…’ searches

To provide some context, contrast the online searches for terms starting with ‘how to…’ that have the highest volume. There are tens of thousands more every month for a range of useful (and questionable) information. In some ways, it shows Brits care more about knowing how to delete their social media accounts than finding ways to recycle and dispose of waste properly.

“The fact that tens of thousands of us are searching for tips to solve a Rubik’s cube compared to just a handful wanting to know how to recycle plastic bottles suggests recycling has fallen down the list of priorities,” adds Hall.

“And for anyone interested, less than 10 people a month search for ‘how to recycle a Rubik’s cube’. We’d advise donating it to a charity shop or passing it on to someone else.”

Just a handful wanting to know how to recycle plastic bottles suggests recycling has fallen down the list of priorities

These are some of the most searched-for ‘how to…’ terms every month in the UK:

how to search terms chart.

Weird ‘how to recycle’ searches 

Online search data always throws up a few funny surprises and ‘how to recycle…’ terms are no different. There might not be many, but a few people are still trying to find out ways to recycle underwear (only if it’s clean!) and floppy disks (remember them?). Plus a few are seeking meta-information about recycling a recycle bin.

How to recycle search terms Monthly searches (UK)
how to recycle old underwear 20
how to recycle recycle bin 20
how to recycle toilets 10
how to recycle hair 10
how to recycle 3.5 floppy disks 10
how to recycle old keys 10
how to recycle cut grass 10

Increase interest in recycling

Household waste recycling rates have more than doubled in England from 19% in 2003/4 to 44.1% in 2021, according to the latest government figures. However, stagnation means there’s lots of work for the UK to meet its waste recycling target of 65% by 2035.

Better education and awareness about what materials are recyclable and how to recycle common items for households and businesses is essential to achieve these goals.

“Online search data isn’t an exact measure of recycling activities and through our work we see many businesses and households upping their recycling efforts. As a general guide for trends and public interest, the low search volumes for many recycling terms are concerning. Most of us spend half our lives online, so hopefully a boost to recycling search terms will be represented with a real increase in recycling in the real world,” concludes Hall.

As a general guide for trends and public interest, the low search volumes for many recycling terms are concerning.
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