My Viewpoint: associate director of recycling at Coca-Cola Enterprises GB looks at motivations behind consumer recycling

UNDERSTANDING BETTER the motivations behind consumer recycling behaviour and how to encourage positive change will push recycling rates up – both in and out of home, says Nick Brown.


Through the UK may be one of the most rapidly improving European countries when it comes to household recycling rates, there remains a real need for continued growth and transformation in our recycling processes in order to meet the demand for recycled materials.


Coca-Cola Enterprises sells over 4 billion drinks in Great Britain every year and nearly half of our carbon footprint is a result of our packaging, meaning it is absolutely vital that we continue to find new ways of encouraging consumers to recycle more frequently rather than discard their used packs. While we have made significant investments in recycling infrastructure and in product innovation through developments such as PlantBottle, there are always new avenues that we, and the wider industry, can explore.


Even with first-class recycling facilities in place, the reliance is still largely on the physical process of empty products being placed correctly into recycling bins. The industry must continue to work hard to engage and bolster support from the people who can make a real difference – the consumers.


We are working on a six-month research partnership with Exeter University which analyses 20 families across the UK and France, examining in depth how their recycling is managed within the home. However, from the insights we have already, we know there is a clear “value-action gap”, where people claim they want to recycle, and believe they do so, but in reality this intention is not always translated into action.


For example, to ensure the journey of a plastic bottle remains a circular one, whereby used materials are given a new life as recycled products, we need to encourage consumer behaviour change. By focusing on gaining more detailed ethnographic insights we can begin to better understand how and why people recycle, and equally the reasons why they don’t.


As we found through our recent campaign with Tesco, Make Recycling Count, a key route to closing this value-action gap is to make recycling and its benefits truly tangible for consumers. The project used two main tactics which have been proven to change behaviour – pledge-making and social norming,the latter being the integration of a new habit as an accepted standard of behaviour. Research shows that if people actively commit to a pledge, they are much more likely to follow through with their promised action and, if they stick to it for six to eight weeks, it’s more likely that they will keep it up in the long run.


People are often open to positively changing behaviour, so providing information in a credible, relevant and engaging way can be key to success. Part of this is about knowing where you can make the biggest impact. We frequently run dedicated initiatives at summer music festivals which have revealed the successes that can occur when you make young people feel good about recycling.


Our Happiness Recycled campaign in the summer included interactive bins being used to engage with visitors through a variety of activities such as a basketball hoop challenge. By providing an incentive to recycle while on the move, consumers were inspired to recycle both during the event and once they returned home.


We have seen progress in leaps and bounds across the industry over the past 10 years but there is still a long way to go. Only by understanding better the motivations behind consumer recycling behaviour and how to encourage positive change where it is needed, will the industry as a whole begin to see a marked change.


Nick Brown is associate director of recycling at Coca-Cola Enterprises GB