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Boosting recycling rates using a behavioural approach

Could behaviourally informed strategies encourage recycling and combat fly-tipping in Barking and Dagenham?

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Background

Barking and Dagenham had the highest level of waste production per household in London. In addition to that, it ranked as one of the lowest performing London boroughs for recycling and has high amounts of fly-tipping. To address this, the Council initiated a project to influence resident behaviour toward recycling and waste disposal. Along with a borough-wide communications campaign and ironing out operational issues, we co-designed targeted interventions that we are about to pilot on a small cohort of households in the borough.

Discovery process

Our discovery process included desk and field research. We:

  • Looked at strategies employed by other boroughs, including campaigns and incentive schemes.

  • Shadowed our frontline officers to understand the challenge at hand better. 

  • Conducted interviews with service staff and managers to gather insights on resident behaviours and historic interventions.

Findings

  • Fly-tips often consist of excess household waste due to limited bin capacity.

  • Being a transient borough, there is a lack of knowledge about recycling practices.

  • Existing interventions, such as waste minimisation initiatives, have shown promise but require substantial resources.

  • Common negative beahviours, like ignorance, contribute to poor waste disposal practices.

Theory of change

Our approach focuses on providing targeted feedback to residents, leveraging behavioral insights to promote recycling behaviors. By offering timely reminders and simplifying waste separation at home, we aim to encourage households to recycle more effectively.

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Solution 

We devised two interventions targeting different segments of residents:

1. Intervention for Non-Recycling Households:

  • Phase 1: Distribute informative leaflets, magnets for easy access, and offer sign-ups for text reminders and free indoor bins.

  • Phase 2: Send persuasive letters with additional support options and provide recycled utility objects as incentives.

  • Phase 3: Conduct door-to-door visits to understand barriers to recycling and offer personalised support.

Leaflet page 1

Behavioural science principle: Make it social - most people perform the desired behaviour

Leaflet page 2 & 3

Behavioural science principle: Make it easy

- simplify messages into simple actions

Leaflet page 4

Text reminders

Behavioural science principle: Make it timely nudge people when they are likely to be receptive

Behavioural science principle: Make it attractive

- attract attention and show scarcity of a service

2. Intervention for Under-Recycling Households:

  • Deliver bin tags with persuasive messaging and QR codes linking to webpages with recycling information and service sign-ups and measure their effectiveness separately.

Testing and evaluation plan

The interventions will be tested on treatment cohorts (specific waste collection rounds) against a control group (‘synthetic control’ using the weighted averages of all other non-treated collection rounds), with outcomes measured through various metrics:

  • Recycling and residual waste volumes

  • Household participation in recycling

  • Bin capacity and recycling quality

  • Sign-ups for opt-in services

The pilot will commence with monitoring treatment rounds and implementing interventions over a 10-week period. Evaluation will compare treatment groups to the control group to assess impact and inform future strategies.

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