How to break down the barriers
Despite good intentions, only half of plastic bottles in Britain and France are recycled. Creativity is needed to change habits
Government, industry and consumers in the developed world have known about the environmental and financial benefits of recycling for well over a generation. Yet it’s not something everyone does – despite knowing they should.
In fact, while three-quarters of British and French consumers say they always recycle plastic bottles at home, recycling rates in these countries still fall short, with only around half of all plastic bottles being returned for recycling. So why is it seemingly so difficult to recycle?
A six-month study, Unpacking the Household, conducted by Coca-Cola Enterprises and the University of Exeter and released in March, sought to uncover the different barriers that exist for people recycling in the home.
Despite the circular economy becoming a key phrase in the sustainability lexicon, it hasn’t filtered down to households. A key finding was that some people misunderstand what happens to waste once it leaves the home, not realizing that recycling is a circular – rather than linear – process. Meanwhile, people also perceive the recyclability of materials as a complex issue. And when in doubt, materials tend to be discarded rather than recycled.
The research suggests that recycling is often not a conscious decision but an instinctive routine built into our everyday lives – in other words, an unconscious habit. That isn’t the best recycling behavior, and although it isn’t always easy to break bad habits, the research pinpoints that new ones can be created at certain times when householders are most open to change, such as when they are designing a new kitchen or moving house.
Behavioral barriers differ by age and between generations but not gender. For example, children can make important contributions to household recycling rates. In the study, youngsters frequently recalled recycling information they had learnt and practiced at school and relayed it to their parents – helping identify opportunities to break habits and motivate adults to change their own behavior.
Professional/Guardian Sustainable Business