Resource Recycling News

How to inspire real behavior change among residents

A report from The Recycling Partnership stressed the importance of repeated, targeted communications with residents to keep them informed and up to date. | A9 Studio/Shutterstock

The Recycling Partnership’s Center for Sustainable Behavior and Impact this week released an in-depth report on decreasing consumer confusion and spurring better recycling habits.

The 2023 Knowledge Report from The Recycling Partnership was based on visits to 16 homes, over 100 in-depth interviews, 10,000 survey responses and seven community pilot projects. The report suggested four key action types to make widespread changes: creating systemic communications, building confidence in recycling outcomes, tailoring engagement and outreach, and designing recycling systems with behavior in mind.

“If we want to fix recycling, we need to deeply understand the barriers, motivators and friction points and find new ways to change recycling behavior. And we need to do it now,” the report stated, pointing to “mounting economic and environmental costs” and coming extended producer responsibility legislation. 

The Recycling Partnership launched The Center for Sustainable Behavior and Impact in 2022 to help drive research geared toward stronger materials diversion across populations. 

Digging into themes

The recent study found that when it comes to communications, consumers need repeated and targeted information; 75% of those surveyed did not remember getting communications of any kind from a local recycling program. 

“Recycling rules change, and that is a good thing, but people do not expect change,” the report noted. “With the pace of improvements in recycling and packaging design, we must build a ‘communications infrastructure’ that can help people embrace ongoing change and make learning easy and rewarding.” 

A recent decrease in confidence that items are actually recycled also needs to be addressed, according to the report. In 2022, only half of survey respondents believed the materials they put in their recycling bins were made into new products. 

Tailored engagement means tweaking messaging to be logical, empathetic or emotional in order to achieve different results. For example, the report noted that an empathetic message aimed at destigmatizing confusion increased route tonnage by 38% in a pilot project in Columbus, Ohio. 

Learn more in person

For more expert insight into encouraging the public to recycle responsibly, join us in Orlando, Fla. for the 2023 Resource Recycling Conference (August 14-16). Attend “Steps to Power Behavior Change in Your Community,” a workshop featuring three of The Recycling Partnership’s top minds – Cody Marshall, Kevin Goolsby and Michelle Metzler – who will be sharing all the latest tips and tricks for optimizing your community outreach. Check out the full session lineup and register today.

“There is evidence that we have not yet offered residents the right set of in-home solutions,” the report noted. “In 2022, only 61% said that they had everything they needed to do a good job recycling.” 

That could mean handing out more in-home bins, but the study also suggested that different bin styles could be helpful, as could design changes to reduce the physical work of recycling. 

“For example, storing and breaking down large cardboard boxes can be a big burden for recycling,” the report stated. “Solutions to reduce log jams and overflowing bins could include cart compactors, better box designs and storage solutions, or drop-off locations for boxes where people who are moving or storing things can also go to pick up the boxes they need.” 

The center launched a Recycling Program Solutions Hub in the spring of 2023 to help local and state recycling leaders access data, training and resources, and it plans to continue to test the solutions laid out in the study, the report stated. 

“Behavior change is certainly a challenge, and our work is far from finished, but together, through access, knowledge and engagement innovations we know we can overcome the intention-action gap and give people the support they need to help recycling succeed,” the report concluded. 

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