Bristol Waste

Collaboration with Warren Hatter, from With The Grain

who cultivated the relationship with the client, Bristol City Council

Warren Hatter
With The Grain – behavioural insights for local government
Grand Prix winner, 2015 Nudge Awards, with Ealing Council
Advisor on Behavioural Insights to Sunderland City Council

Tel: 07971 413164



Commissioning client Bristol City Council for Bristol Waste.


Using behavioural design, increase in-home recycling in Bristol in any way that you see fit.


The techniques of behavioural science give us the opportunity to predictably improve:

Specifically, we increased the level of food waste recycling between 16%–35%, and these are the ‘hard to reach’ households in the half of Bristol residents who don’t sort their food waste.


The ability to manage waste in a sustainable way is of great importance for the environment, and crucial for cost-effective running of local services. For example, efficient waste sorting not only has obvious benefits in the form of recycling materials for re-use – it also reduces the amount of waste going into landfill, and cuts down the landfill costs for local governments, including landfill tax. The key step in the recycling process is waste sorting in individual households. In this vein, we were commissioned by Bristol City Council to use behavioural insights to find ways to increase the level of recycling done in Bristol households.

Insight & anthropology

6 households were visited as part of qualitative/ethnographic observations to identify barriers to effective recycling, and opportunities to improve it. Residents walked us through how they deal with all types of waste in their home. One thing we realised was that people who recycle well often have a ‘holding’ space in their home, where they keep things before putting them outside: cardboard behind the sofa and set kerbside on the morning of the collection; food waste in the bowl on kitchen counter emptied outside daily – or hourly. It is a co-ordinated in-home effort, rarely documented, and unknown to us beforehand.


Subsequently, we co-designed with stakeholders an intervention aimed at increasing food recycling specifically. Food recycling was hypothesised to be the gateway to efficient waste sorting, as well as the biggest factor capable of reducing overall weight of landfill waste.


The way to communicate around food recycling was via kerbside bins. There were no other targeted and inexpensive ways to communicate. We designed, wrote, and manufactured stickers and a leaflet.

image (20)1

Experimental design

Experimental design: 192 households across two locations were then subject to an experimental intervention, split between two communication conditions: bin stickers (N = 122) and leaflets (N = 70). The communication forms used personalisation, recognition, effort reduction, proximal construals, and visualisation of action to encourage households to opt-in to the scheme.


Bin stickers were found to be very effective in engaging non-recycling (landfill-only) households, noting a 35% uptake of food recycling, and an even greater uptake in dry recycling (62%).

For households already engaged in dry recycling, leaflets appeared to be a more effective method of communication, resulting in 28% uptake in food recycling at least once over two weeks.

As such, we identified two efficient and cost-effective ways for the local government to increase recycling, as well as developed Bristol City Council’s understanding and capacity to launch future initiatives by focusing on co-production.

More about this work

Paywall article in Materials Recycling World

Warren and Oliver invited to speak at the 3rd Cross-Government Behavioural Insight conference on Innovation and Collaboration #govbi2016

Mr @oliverpayne telling our recycling story at #GovBI2016. In hi-viz.

— With The Grain (@warrenhatter) July 15, 2016


Share this project.