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Getting Consumers To Commit To Recycling Isn’t Always Enough

By Carla Fantoni, Vice President of Engagement Strategy for the Carton Council and Vice President, Communications Operations for Tetra Pak

As the Carton Council continues to work to increase the recycling of food and beverage cartons, we want to better understand how we can be most effective. It’s important to ensure consumers know food and beverage cartons are recyclable but awareness is only part of the challenge. This led us to commission a behavioral science study which looked into the factors that play into recycling participation.

What we found was interesting. Previous behavior science reveals the importance of getting people to commit to a behavior and that a commitment or pledge can be crucial to actually changing behavior. But when it comes to recycling, pledging is not necessarily enough.

The study revealed that there are micro-behaviors most people need to go through after committing to recycle before it actually becomes a habit. While the study was specific to cartons, the micro-behaviors are relevant to all commonly recyclable materials.

Some of these factors are logistical, such as having the tools necessary to recycle, like a container or location to store recyclables in the kitchen. Others are more psychological and include things like judging whether others recycle; following social norms surrounding recycling; encouraging others in the household to recycle; and feeling positive about being a good neighbor and citizen for recycling.

By studying how people make decisions and change their behaviors in real life, the Carton Council hopes to unlock new insights which can be leveraged to nudge people to increase the recycling of their food and beverage cartons.

While availability and the means to recycle is the most influential element in terms of initiating recycling, the study revealed that psychological factors cannot be overlooked and play an important role in making recycling a habit.

The findings serve as a reminder that even after a consumer has committed to recycling more and/or better, there are still many steps required to make their behavior habitual.

We look forward to sharing more on the findings in the near future as well as incorporating them into our communications efforts moving forward. You can learn more about the findings here.