Recycling rates have risen, and the UK is on schedule to meet EU targets, but the key to dealing with our escalating waste problem lies in changing our buying habits and our attitudes to consumption, according to the authors of a new Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) publication.
Consumption: reducing, reusing and recycling, which accompanied a seminar in Belfast organised jointly with the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, Northern Ireland, says that the benefits of recycling risk being undermined by the sheer quantity of waste being generated. If household waste output continues to rise by three per cent a year, the cost to the economy will be 3.2 billion and the amount of harmful methane emissions will double by 2020.
The report highlights the many ways that social science can contribute to waste policy development, either by devising initiatives, by providing tools to evaluate their relative effectiveness or by helping understand why they did or did not work.
Professor Ken Peattie, Director of the ESRC Centre for Business Relationships, Accountability, Sustainability and Society (BRASS), Cardiff University, describes three projects which are linked to different aspects of waste reduction at the production stage and in consumption. He says the key tool in the development and implementation of consumption reduction policies is social marketing, which involves using commercial marketing techniques to influence their behaviour for the benefit of society as a whole.
Ken Peattie explains that social marketing can be successful because it focuses on the target audiences point of view, taking account of any emotional or physical barriers that may prevent people from changing their behaviour. 'Guilt messages are ineffective. A focus on the benefits of a greener lifestyle has been shown to be a better way to encourage people to reduce their consumption,' the report says.