Defra - Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Science Search

Science and Research Projects

Return to Science Search homepage   Return to Project List

Building Greater Understanding of the Techniques and Processes Required to Promote Sustainable Waste Management through Behaviour Change Programmes - WR0114

Understanding pro-environmental behaviour change has been a major focus for psychology research (Dwyer et al 1993; Thogersen 1996, De Young 1996; Geller 2002) with steady development of the Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB) (Ajzen 1991; Armitage and Conner 1999). Domestic waste practices are habitualised behaviours: actions performed with high frequency in a stable context of domestic routines (Oullette and Wood 1998). TPB posits the challenge as bringing automatic responses into consciousness, stimulates an intention to change, and then implementing appropriate mechanisms for achieving behaviour change.

There are some problems with TPB-driven research, especially in a policy-relevant context (see Burgess et al. 2003).

1. Given its theoretical orientation, most studies focus on intentions to make changes rather than actual behaviour change. TPB’s predictive value is increasing but less convincingly in real world rather than experimental situations , especially when addressing the social dimensions of behaviour change (Knussen et al. 2004; Mannetti et al. 2004). In contrast, qualitative research (Hobson 2003) suggests an important motivation for early adopters is curiosity about knowledge claims made by green advocates whilst work on ethical consumption (Bedford 1999) demonstrates that social constraints inhibit behaviours, such as recycling, which do not have a strong moral/ethical foundation.

2. Research on actual behaviour change interventions concentrate on single behaviours rather than interactions between different sets of household practices (de Young 1993; Schultz et al. 1995; Ebreo and Vining 2001). It is much harder to change unsustainable practices such as excessive car-use when this technology is deeply embedded in different aspects of the domestic economy (Noorman and Uiterkamp 1998; Staats et al. 2004; see also Burgess et al. 2003).

3. Research is dominated by quantitative, survey-based methodologies. These data allow for sophisticated statistical manipulation and hypothesis testing but oversimplify complex, context-dependent, social and cultural relationships (see Weenig and Midden 1991; De Leon and Fuqua, 1995, Terry et al. 1999). Qualitative research, especially that which can address how expert and lay knowledges about waste are socially constructed; the role played by facilitators in supporting households through a change programme; and the ways in which altruistic values may find expression in pro-environmental behaviour change is needed (Harrison et al. 1996; Burgess et al 1998; Michaelis 2002, Burgess et al. 2003)

4. Little longitudinal research assessing the efficacy of pro-environmental behaviour change interventions. One exception (Staats et al. 2004) hypothesizes 3 factors as contributing to the likely success of change programmes: information provision; feedback on performance; and a supportive social environment. A 2 year study (1994-6) with 150 Dutch Global Action Plan Ecoteam (ETP) households (matched with a control sample from the wider population) showed ETP households changed half of 38 behaviours studied, including reducing solid waste by 32%. Moreover, these changes were maintained or enlarged 2 years after completion of the ETP. Acknolwedging Ecoteam members were a-typical of the Dutch population as a whole, Staats et al. recommend research to explore how to adapt the ETP to engage a broader section of the population, concluding ‘a leaner instrument that nevertheless retains its original effectiveness would be a precious instrument in the struggle for pro-environmental change’ (2004, 363).

This research project will capture learning from practical projects, relating to environmental behaviour change, delivered in four communities. It will:

· Discover the characteristics of people most likely to take a lead in undertaking behaviour change waste projects.
· Provide detailed empirical evidence outlining which intervention techniques are likely to prove successful in engaging households from different socio-economic groups in waste reduction /recycling and the key elements that make these tools effective.
· Measure the direct impact of behaviour change programmes on waste.
· Highlight barriers preventing other individuals/households from becoming engaged.
· Create a unique evaluation framework and toolkit.

The research is relevant to two areas within DEFRA’s Waste and Resources R&D programme areas.
· Household waste prevention – by evaluating demand side measures.
· Development of tools and instruments to facilitate behaviour change.

The research will benefit:
· Consumer and community organisations wishing to engage households in waste projects.
· Local authorities – helping them to design and evaluate campaigns.
· DEFRA by building knowledge of behaviour change tools.

The project addresses two fundamental questions:
· How can individuals/households be encouraged to change their behaviour in order to reduce their level of waste and recycle more of their remaining waste?
· How can changes in domestic routines be sustained beyond the life of an action project?

Answers to these questions are not easily found in existing academic research for four main reasons:
· Research overwhelming concentrates on individuals’ intentions to change aspects of their behaviour rather than actual behaviour change interventions
· Strong reliance on quantitative methodologies and reductive statistical modelling means that social, cultural and contextual aspects of pro-environmental lifestyles and self-identity are under-researched
· Research has tended to concentrate on interventions to change single behaviours rather than addressing their inter-connectedness in domestic routines.
· Little research has assessed the efficacy of pro-environmental behaviour change programmes over longer time spans than the life of the intervention itself so evidence to assess the longer-term efficacy of different kinds of behaviour change tools does not exist.

This research addresses these weaknesses and will consequently build the level of knowledge on the potential impact that different behaviour change projects can have on reducing waste and increasing recycling.

The overall objective of the project was to address the question of how individuals and households can be encouraged to change their behaviour in order to reduce their level of waste and also to sustain this behaviour change. There were six specific objectives required to achieve this, including a two-year research project conducted by the University of East Anglia (UEA). The research focused on Global Action Plan’s ‘EcoTeams’ programme and sought to better understand how a team-based action project and the mechanisms within it foster long-term (or ‘durable’) behaviour change with regards to waste and recycling activities. In doing so, the research also addressed demand-side waste prevention measures and the development of tools and instruments for other pro-environmental behaviour change.

Two primary questions guided the research inquiry:

1. How can individuals and households be encouraged to change their behaviour in order to reduce their level of waste production, recycle more of their remaining waste, and reduce their energy consumption?
2. How can such changes in domestic routines be sustained beyond the life of an action project?

In order to address these questions, the research examined the following themes:

a. Understanding the motivation of individuals and households to participate in the programme, including the extent to which the demographic profiles of EcoTeams participants conform to the general demographic profile of the neighbourhoods in which they live.
b. Understanding the relative behavioural contributions and importance of the different elements of the EcoTeams programme. These include social interaction and group deliberation, information provision, and personalised feedback on waste and energy use behaviours.
c. The types and extent of behaviour change achieved through the programme.
d. How and why pro-environmental behaviour changes are, or are not, sustained beyond the life of the programme.
Project Documents
• Final Report : WR0114 "Building greater understanding of the techniques and processes required to promote sustainable waste management through behaviour change programmes" - Final Report   (392k)
• Final Report - Annex : WR0114 "Building greater understanding of the techniques and processes required to promote sustainable waste management through behaviour change programmes" - Final Report Annex   (355k)
• Technical Report : WR0114 "Building greater understanding of the techniques and processes required to promote sustainable waste management through behaviour change programmes" - Technical Report   (1913k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2005

To: 2008

Cost: £515,496
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Global Action Plan
Behaviour change              
Environmental Protection              
Establishing a sound database for waste management              
Social Dimension              
Social Research              
Sustainable Consumption and Production              
Sustainable Resource Consumption and Management              
Techniques & methodolgies for waste management              
Understand/enhance pro-environmental behaviour              
Understanding socio-economic benefits of recycling              
Waste Management              
Fields of Study
Waste Management