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:
the range and amount of recycling done by households who already recycle
the quality of sorting materials left at kerbside
the number of households who start recycling
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.
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.
1. Personalisation and implied observation
Handwriting the crew names and the house number on the leaflet, makes the presence of human beings real, and the householder aware that real people are making contact with ‘you’. Why is this important? Our personal reputation is a strong, deep-seated driver of behaviour; it is challenged by being observed by others, or even the implication that we are being observed
2. Localisation: local round name
For most of human history, we’ve lived in small groups; we still associate with, and respond to small, local messages. Additionally, the local collection round is all the residents see of the waste collection service – for the contractor it is a vast complex supply chain; for the resident, a few minutes once a week
You’ll notice the leaflets begin with a ‘thank you’, and in no place do they ‘tell off’ the audience for poor behaviour. It is, in effect, an amnesty. Being nice to someone is likely to get similar behaviour in return
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.