Plastics recycling opens up new ethnographic frontier

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Related tags: Polyethylene terephthalate

Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) is commissioning in-depth consumer research to identify why, at 40%, UK plastics bottle recycling rates are so much lower than in EU markets.

Leading the research is Dr Stewart Barr at the University of Exeter, who said: "In the past, we might have surveyed 2,000 or 3,000 households using an online questionnaire. But these large-scale surveys don't tell you anything when it comes to opening up the 'black box' of the household."

Instead, his team will monitor the behaviour of 10 UK and 10 French households over a 10-month period. In France, recycling rates for polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles stand at around 50%.

"CCE is particularly interested in the group it dubs the 'Green Casuals', who tend to express a wish to do the right thing, but usually don't,"​ Barr explained.

The impact of packaging and labelling on domestic behaviour will be one focus. "Plastics are especially problematic, because it's highly confusing having so many different types,"​ he said. "Research will include going shopping with members of the household to assess, among other things, how the look and feel of a pack relates to how they finally dispose of it."

Over the summer, CCE began to use the British Retail Consortium's On-Pack Recycling Label on its Coke Zero bottles. "It's obviously essential to communicate clearly on pack,"​ said director of recycling Patrick McGuirk. "But it's not the only driver, and you can't rely on it."

He said: "One of the hypotheses is that people don't always see the environment as their own personal responsibility."​ Financial incentives or 'community pledging' models might work better.

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