Abstract Although the use of kerbside recycling facilities by householders is often key to the reduction of materials disposed of to landfill, the quantitative assessment of householders’ recycling behaviour is problematic. This study introduces a method to diagnose recycling behaviour by assessing kerbside scheme use in terms of the set-out of recyclate containers compared to the proportion of households participating in recycling (participation ratio). Application of numerical behaviour models demonstrated that kerbside recycling in sampled regions of the UK tends to be consistent with householders using kerbside schemes more frequently than would be observed with random patterns of use that are uniform amongst all householders. When aggregated to collection rounds, householders’ modal recycling behaviour tended towards either non-participation or frequent participation. We propose that initiatives to enhance kerbside recycling should employ such quantitative assessments of recycling behavioural modes to inform and guide promotional and educational strategies. A conceptual model for prioritizing campaigns to promote recycling at the kerbside on the basis of identifiable and quantifiable patterns of householder recycling behaviour is presented.