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Honing the Habit:

Four Insights on Spreading Recycling Behavior

Behavior change is challenging.


Adopting 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 global recycling rates languishing, facilitating positive change and establishing long-lasting habits have become more important than ever.

Our latest report, ‘Honing the Habit: Four Insights on Spreading Recycling Behavior’, authored in partnership with Delterra, provides a roadmap for promoting pro-recycling behavior change in emerging economies. Based on an analysis of Delterra’s flagship Rethinking Recycling initiative across Indonesia and Argentina, ‘Honing the Habit’ offers four critical insights on the link between promoting behavior change and recycling participation.

The report offers a roadmap for promoting pro-recycling behavior in emerging economies.

Conducted across three Delterra recycling projects in Indonesia and Argentina, the research reveals that although communities differ in how their residents think about recycling and what motivates them to separate waste, important common learnings can be gleaned.

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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 design messages and campaigns that speak to the unique culture and context of each area.

  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.

Key Insights

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