While recycling has become a mainstream behaviour in the UK, we are still below national targets and in recent years rates have plateaued. In partnership with design agency Radley Yeldar, since 2017 we’ve led WRAP’s citizen engagement work on recycling. This has involved launching a new behaviourally-led comms campaign for Recycle Now and running behaviour change pilots across a number of strategic priorities.

A new Recycle Now campaign

Recycling rates have plateaued in the UK and with spending and local services being cut a new approach was needed to boost recycling; conventional communications have achieved some successes over the years but seemed to have reached their limits. Building on established behavioural theory, we built a new way of thinking about recycling communications. Evidence from psychology and behavioural economics studies showed us that more education wouldn’t lead to significant change and trying to make people excited wouldn’t work either. Instead, we built an approach based on social norms – the idea that we are strongly influenced by what others do (or at least what we think they do). We designed new normative messaging to make people feel like everyone else recycles and therefore they should too.

Our partners Radley Yeldar lead on the implementation of this approach through a new comms campaign. A toolkit of messaging and assets has been adopted by businesses and local authorities around the country. Recycle Week 2018 was the most successful ever in terms of the number of partners involved and audience reached.

Meanwhile, we have developed four behaviour change pilots to test innovative new ways to encourage recycling across some of WRAP’s strategic priorities. These are being robustly evaluated with the view to nationally scale up those that prove successful.

1. Create new family norms through schools

This pilot tested the delivery of a simple, scalable, intervention through schools and aimed to prove its power to change home recycling behaviour.

We developed a set of homework sheets for children from Reception up to Year 6. These were designed to promote a family conversation about recycling, encouraging children to investigate their current system with their parents, finding out what can and can’t be recycled and what common mistakes are made.

The homework sheets were piloted during Recycle Week 2018, with five schools distributing the sheets and two further schools acting as controls. Following encouraging results, we’re taking this forward into a bigger trial early in the new year. 

2. Change perceptions of residual waste

This aimed to use a social norms approach to change the perception of the general waste bin and lead to an increase in recycling without also increasing contamination.

Working with a Local Authority partner, we created two sets of bin stickers: ‘recycler’ vs. ‘waster’ and ‘recycling’ vs. ‘rubbish’. The residual stickers were red and the recycling stickers were green to visually indicate that residual is the undesirable option in comparison to recycling, and simple graphics were added to further emphasise this. An accompanying leaflet was also designed to communicate simply to residents what can and can’t be recycled at present.

The two designs were piloted over 4 rounds in November 2018. The monitoring phase is ongoing.

3. Nudge people to recycle food waste

Increasing the amount of food waste collected is a target for a most local authorities. For this pilot we worked with two Local Authorities to target households not currently recycling food waste to encourage them to do so in the future.

We designed a bin hangar drawing on social norms and the principle of making the behaviour as easy as possible. The back of the hanger broke down into simple steps what people need to do to start recycling their food waste, including ordering a caddy, and a reminder of what can and can’t go in it.

Residual waste collection crews identified households who hadn’t put out a food caddy and attached the hanger to their bin. This process meant that we were able to target those only those who didn’t currently recycle food waste and could also tap into the behavioural principle of ‘right place, right time’ to catch people’s attention when they would be already thinking about waste.

The monitoring of these pilots is still ongoing.

4. Tackle missed capture of plastics from bathrooms

Many people are now used to recycling items from their kitchens, however recycling from the bathroom isn’t as common. Most local authorities accept plastic bottles, meaning that lots of products like shower gel and shampoo end up as missed capture in the general waste.

In this randomised control trial, we’re testing whether providing people with a timely reminder to recycle is effective. Working with a major high street retailer, we’ve designed a sticker to go on the front of a shower gel bottle which, as well as prompting people in the right place at the right time, uses a dynamic norm, that increasing numbers of people are doing this.

The RCT is being run with treatment and control groups of 4,000 customers. After they have finished the bottle, both groups will complete a survey which will enable us to see what effect the pilot has had on their recycling behaviour. We are awaiting the results in the new year.

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