The behavioural science behind… encouraging more people to recycle

Recycling is rarely out of the news. I’m not alone in my office for replacing my usual pile of paper coffee cups with a mug. I’m increasingly conscious of the volumes of plastic packaging I’d get through every week.

The UK claims to be a nation of enthusiastic recyclers, with 95% of the population saying they regularly recycle. But there’s a gap between what people say and what they do. For instance, the UK has one of the lowest recycling rates in the EU for recycling used batteries. This results in 20,000 tonnes of batteries ending up in landfill in the UK each year.

As the number one battery brand, Duracell is well placed to lead the industry in driving positive change. H+K Smarter, H+K’s behavioural science team, was delighted to partner with Duracell to find new ways to tackle this challenge. We needed to go beyond a typical awareness scheme if we were to make a tangible difference.

The latest insights from behavioural science helped Duracell get a fuller understanding of the real-life barriers to recycling – and to design new solutions. We created a new type of campaign, to go with the grain of how people actually think and behave in real life. Our insights included:

  • Many people hoard used batteries at home in drawers and jars i.e. they do nothing with them.
  • The science of habit formation explains that battery recycling will never become routine. Unlike newspaper or bottle recycling, battery recycling is too infrequent and unpredictable to lead to routine habits. Instead, we needed to create a battery recycling occasion.
  • We needed an audience motivated to collect and recycle used batteries.

This led to the Big Battery Hunt, a fun and competitive seasonal campaign that engaged children and their families to collect used batteries. Kids are given a collection box and activity sheets, and challenged to collect lots of used batteries.

This was a school-based campaign. We motivated teachers by making it easy to include battery recycling in maths lessons and school assemblies.

The Big Battery Hunt included a range of strategies to ‘nudge’ behaviour change:

  • People are motivated to persist with a task if they perceive a personal role or attachment to that task. We created battery collection boxes that kids could personalise and therefore want to use and retain.
  • People are motivated to stick to a longer-term goal if they have a sense of making quick progress. We used behavioural techniques to make it easy for the kids to perceive their progress, while encouraging them to collect lots of used batteries.
  • It is a focused, seasonal campaign rather than attempting to create a new regular battery recycling habit.
  • Duracell needed a campaign that would be simple and cheap to extend to thousands of schools. We used behavioural science to design and test the most effective and cost-effective incentives for kids

The Big Battery Hunt in 2017 collected an incredible 107,000 used batteries from just 40 schools. This compares to only 200 batteries from the same number of non-participating schools. It proved highly popular with kids, parents and teachers.

In 2018, Duracell has expanded the Big Battery Hunt to over half a million kids at thousands of schools across the UK. Schools interested in taking part can find out more:

At H+K, we are applying similar approaches to other recycling and pro-environmental challenges, combining the art of communications with the science of human behaviour.

Dan Berry, Behavioural Insights Strategist, H+K

posted by Dan Berry | April 25, 2018  | @

Please contact Eleni Constantinidi for more information.