A lack of market research into how the public responds to and acts on issues such as recycling is hampering intervention efforts to encourage more responsible disposal of materials such as packaging waste.

Speaking at a networking event hosted by LRS Consultancy in London last week, Coca-Cola Enterprises’ recycling director Patrick McGuirk said that identifying what makes certain consumer types tick was vital in being able to influence and change their purchasing habits.

“We did consumer research into recycler versus non-recycler and found that the ‘green casual’ amounts to around 40% of British consumers. The strapline is ‘better intentions and better actions’ – they want to do the right thing, but barriers get in the way,” he explained.

The studies undertaken threw up some interesting findings, mainly that mums tend to run recycling in 78% of homes, but both dads and kids act as impeders. “Pester power is nonsense, kids are the second biggest barrier after Dad to making recycling work,” McGuirk said.

He added that for companies such as Coca-Cola, this type of character assessment was essential in tailoring marketing messages for new product development and launches.

“For too long, this type of interrogation, rigour and data analysis in terms of consumer behavioural change just hasn’t hit this sector. We are just beginning to look at this change and try and influence it and use the power of our brand to make that happen.”

According to Katherine Dooley, a director at global communications firm Burson-Marsteller, consumers are becoming “fatigued” with climate change issues and what they can do to effect change on a wider scale.

She told delegates that people need simple messages combined with reassurance that “small steps” are good enough to make a difference. “We need to bring that abstract debate down to an individual level,” she said.

McGuirk argued that a smarter, more intuitive approach was needed – one that could “inspire” a person by tapping into their core values, culture and lifestyle. “We need experts to deliver this communication, not someone who happens to be passionate about the environment.”

Waste industry consultant Paul Levett echoed this view, saying it was about making environmental messages more relevant to people. He said: “It helps to make carbon visual as it’s difficult to conceptualise what the impact of it is on a product’s journey.”

Meanwhile Steve Read, who heads up the Somerset Waste Partnership which is working with Marks & Spencer to recover targeted packaging materials, thought it key to localise the climate change agenda in a way that could benefit communities.

“We are currently pushing a message that links recycling with economic advantage for the local community. For example, if we recycle more we will have more money to spend on the elderly, or disadvantaged people,” he told delegates.

Maxine Perella

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