Coca-Cola hunts for the elusive ‘black box’ of recycling behaviour

Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) has revealed more detail on its international pilot project to explore the social science behind recycling by studying people's waste habits in the home.

The company is leading a research project with the University of Exeter to study what it calls the “black box” of household recycling – tapping into the behavioural patterns and dynamics between family members in dealing with the waste they generate.

The pilot is being run across 20 households in the UK and France – both countries have low recycling rates of PET, the material CCE is targeting from plastic bottles to put back into remanufacture.

CCE has already invested in a joint venture with Eco Plastics to close the loop on this material in the UK, and is shortly to embark on a similar venture in France with PET reprocessor APPE.

The company now sees influencing consumer behaviour as the next step in encouraging higher levels of recycling to provide a steady stream of input material into these facilities and is seeking to gain valuable insight by monitoring household habits over a period of six months.

CCE’s director of corporate responsibility & sustainability Joe Franses said the work would centre around understanding how waste material such as packaging flows through households and who within the home makes decisions over what to recycle.

“We will use these insights to influence our drive to get people to recycle more and will be testing out some key theories,” he said.

These theories will examine whether or not a person’s understanding of what happens to the material they put out for recycling has an influence on their participation levels and if having more on-pack labelling of what can be recycled will help drive their behaviour.

Dr Stewart Barr at the University of Exeter is heading up the pilots and said it was important to understand why people often don’t follow through on their intentions to recycle more.

“We will be getting households to keep diaries of their shopping habits, their waste practices, but also recording how they make those decisions and their feelings in making those decisions,” he explained.

Dr Barr added that sustainability messaging needed to get away from the “top down approach” of knowledge and data and start concentrating on engaging with consumers in a more co-creative way to design in better strategies.

Maxine Perella

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