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Gap between intention and action

As members of this industry, we probably already do our best to recycle, in our personal lives as well as professional. In fact, three-quarters of British and French householders claim to always recycle plastic bottles at home.  However, we know that only around six out of 10 of the packages we put on the market are collected for recycling – presenting a significant opportunity for more to be done.

Addressing this gap between intentions and actions, and reviewing how we can work together to change consumer behaviour over the long term, is something that we have been exploring at Coca-Cola Enterprises for some time.

We recently carried out a six-month in-depth study with the University of Exeter, concluding in a paper entitled ‘Unpacking the Household,’ which went beyond simply asking people about their recycling habits. Researchers observed real life activity and attitudes, going directly into 20 households in Great Britain and France, to help understand the barriers to at-home recycling.

One finding that was particularly evident was that recycling is not generally based on conscious decision making. Most people go about their daily lives and just ‘do what they do’. This means that if they can recycle they usually will, however if the process is not made relatively easy for them, other day-to-day priorities take precedence when it comes to forming and shaping tasks.

Another issue uncovered in the research is that recycling habits are quite ingrained, often having already been formed in people at an early stage – and these do not always involve best practice activity. We all know it can be hard to break a habit once it has been formed, but that is where we – the industry, NGOs and recycling organisations - can and should intervene.

We need to work together to help people recognise any bad habits in relation to waste and recycling activity within the home, and form new ones wherever possible. This can be done by intervening when householders are most open to change, such as when they are moving house or designing a new kitchen.

Among other findings, the study also showed that space, systems and technologies within households can play a key role in determining how people manage waste.  We found that householders are often not willing to compromise aesthetics in their homes to make room for recycling bins.

This presents a challenge but also an opportunity for innovation in our living spaces, to ensure that recycling can be fully incorporated into day-to-day life in the home, alongside other functions such as cooking and cleaning.

As a manufacturer and producer of 12 billion bottles and cans every year, we know we have a responsibility to better understand recycling behaviours at home. Through our work with retailers and local authorities we aim to take an industry leading position in helping to inspire positive behaviour change.

We draw on our insights and research and work with stakeholders to find proactive ways of bringing these to life. Through several successful initiatives, such as our recent ‘Make Recycling Count’ campaign partnership with Tesco, based on the principles of pledging, we have found that while people are often open to positively changing behaviour, measures to both educate and encourage are effective. Providing information in a credible, relevant and engaging way can be key to success.

Knowing we do not have all the answers ourselves, we have joined forces with other thought leaders to help us come up with potential solutions, through a partnership with open innovation platform,

The 11-week challenge, which launched at the end of March, aims to crowd-source ideas –  big or small - that address the core question of ‘how to establish better recycling habits at home’.

The initiative, which taps into OpenIDEO’s 60,000 strong community from 130 countries, aims to encourage some of the world’s most creative minds to collaborate in developing and refining ideas. By inviting such collaboration, the project will also offer invaluable insight into behaviours and attitudes, with the aim of producing recycling solutions which really work for the general public. I would strongly recommend that practitioners have a look at the feedback and ideas generated so far, as it reminds so many of us in the field of what is really going on in people’s lives.

The ideas generated will be judged by an expert panel of our peers - recycling organisations, academics and NGOs - on their originality, practicality and applicability in a real life situation.  This includes WWF, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Casino.

We would encourage anyone who shares our passion for driving behaviour change in recycling to get involved with the challenge and have a look at the website ( Your experiences and expertise can help shape the ideas and I guarantee there are contributions in there which will surprise even the most experienced practitioner!

Nick Brown is Associate Director for Recycling at Coca-Cola Enterprises Great Britain.

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