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Honing the Habit: Four Insights on Spreading Recycling Behavior
Apr 20, 2022


This research is delivered in partnership with The Circulate Initiative.

Behavior change is incredibly difficult. Getting people to adopt new habits requires disruption of ingrained patterns and embracing unfamiliar actions. Yet increasing recycling rates depends on overcoming just this sort of challenge. With recyclable material in short supply and the global recycling rate languishing, establishing recycling habits throughout the world is more important than ever.

In this article we provide an overview of Delterra’s approach to recycling behavior change and share our key insights and practical lessons from our programs in Indonesia and Argentina. In these projects, curbside-collection recycling service was either enhanced or introduced to communities for the first time. Our experience in this context shows that, while each community is unique, some common principles apply in establishing widespread and consistent recycling behavior.


Key Insights

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1: TO TAKE THE IDEA OF RECYCLING SERIOUSLY, PEOPLE NEED TO SEE THAT THEIR COMMUNITY’S RECYCLING INFRASTRUCTURE AND SERVICES ARE HERE TO STAY.
In the communities we work in, we have identified three infrastructure elements essential for building trust in a recycling system: collection schedule, collection logistics, and community materials.

2: PROMOTING RECYCLING IS NOT A CUT-AND-PASTE EFFORT. EACH COMMUNITY NEEDS EMOTIONALLY-ROOTED APPEALS THAT RESONATE WITH THEIR SPECIFIC VALUES AND PRIORITIES.
To really motivate a community to recycle, we designed messages and campaigns that speak to the unique culture and context of each area.

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3: MASS COMMUNICATION IS NOT ENOUGH. PERSONAL ENGAGEMENT IS WHAT DRIVES REAL BEHAVIOR CHANGE.
While “top down” communication provides awareness and legitimacy for an initiative, “bottom up” face-to-face interactions and ongoing support resources motivate people to change their daily behaviors.

4: A RAPID “TEST AND LEARN” APPROACH IS CRITICAL FOR IDENTIFYING THE MOST EFFECTIVE INTERVENTIONS.
Rapid testing of a range of options is essential to successfully tailoring a program to the local context.


About the Authors

Delterra is an environmental nonprofit on a mission to create a world where human activities protect and restore a healthy planet. Delterra’s founding partner is McKinsey & Company, and its flagship initiative, Rethinking Recycling, works with communities in emerging economies to build rapidly scalable, self-sustaining waste management and recycling ecosystems that redirect waste into productive use while improving the lives of the people it touches. In the coming years, Delterra will add other initiatives to its portfolio, all with a view to developing innovative scalable solutions that redesign human systems for the good of people and the planet. Learn more at: https://www.delterra.org

 

The Circulate Initiative is a non-profit organization committed to solving the ocean plastic pollution challenge by supporting the incubation of circular, inclusive and investible waste management and recycling systems in South and Southeast Asia. We achieve this by collaborating with key stakeholders across the sector, and by producing insights to support and accelerate investment and scale across the value chain. Learn more at: https://www.thecirculateinitiative.org/