The placing of non-recyclable items ('contaminants') into household recycling bins is a persistent problem facing local, state and federal government waste policy makers, the waste industry and the community as a whole.
This project focuses on gaining a better understanding of why contamination happens in the first place and what behaviour change interventions can successfully help Australians improve their recycling practices.
To understand (i) barriers to correct recycling, and (ii) potential interventions, we:
In this video, Research Stream Leader, Jennifer Macklin (Downes), provides a concise summary of the research, what they did and what they found. For a more in depth summary, scroll down to Step 2 to download the Kerbside Recycling Summary Report.
In conducting this research, we followed the BehaviourWorks Method to gather evidence on the behaviour change approaches most likely to work.
(See a brief visual summary of the BehaviourWorks Method or a more extensive explanation.)
We conducted a rapid evidence review to summarise and evaluate published literature and practitioner reflections on the effectiveness of interventions for reducing contamination and encouraging correct recycling at a household level.
Alongside, we conducted a series of interviews with Australian policy-makers and reviewed their policy documents to better understand identified barriers and potential interventions in the Australian context.
In reviewing the literature, we found little high-quality evidence on 'what works' to change contamination behaviour. The review therefore focused on broader recycling and waste-related behaviour.
Note: BehaviourWorks Australia was engaged by the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment to conduct this review, in parallel to the other work of the BWA Waste and Circular Economy Collaboration.
The research revealed:
For readers wanting a quick overview of the evidence review (5 minute read):
For readers writing a brief, a policy submission or wanting a summary of practical insights:
For readers needing all the technical detail, including the full methodology:
These studies are based on a series of research activities that involve a review of the research currently available in academic literature, interviews with practitioners and policy-makers, and co-design workshops to synthesise and select trial ideas.
A total of 38 trials across three streams were initially planned, with 24 trial delivery partners across two states and all levels of government, coming together to co-design solutions. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, 22 trials with 16 online experiments and 6 field trials, run in collaboration with 20 local councils, Planet Ark and our consortium partners, were able to be completed.
Our experiments and trials included:
Facebook online experiments: What works to grab and hold people's attention?
Online survey-based Flyer experiments: What works to improve people's sorting knowledge?
Council program field trials: What works to improve people's actual sorting behaviour?
This program involved BehaviourWorks Australia overseeing the largest known program of coordinated trials in Australia. We found:
For a full summary of our project and its findings, see our Summary Report, or for a quick overview see our Infographic. For a more in-depth read of our individual trials, see our Technical Reports for each trial.
We thank our partners for their support and collaborative efforts throughout this program of work, which include the following government departments and organisations highlighted below: