Study will reveal the true champions of recyling

Date 11.11.2015

Researchers from four universities will study how individuals behave within households and families, and how the dynamics of the household affect individuals’ decisions about waste management.

Terry Tudor, Lecturer in Wastes Management, School of Science and Technology, The University of Northampton, and colleagues at the Universities of Portsmouth, Kingston and Exeter have jointly won a £200,000 Leverhulme Trust grant for their study.

Terry Tudor commented:

“This is one of the first times that there will be a holistic evaluation of how best we can go about changing people’s perceptions about the environment and their behaviour. Previous studies have tended to be snap shots, rather than giving a view over a range of life-courses. This one will be different. One of the things that we will be focusing on in the project is how previous experiences and habits impact on what people do currently.

“For example, does the experience of someone who’s lived through the Second World War make them more likely to reuse materials? What influences individuals most when it comes to the environment- are they inspired more by life changes, such as the birth of a baby, or by their own history, and have they always acted in a certain way?”

Scientists will first take a snapshot of how 4,000 households deal with waste, then they will drill deeper by conducting ‘life histories’ of a cross section of respondents to find out what has led to individuals behaving as they do. The first results are expected in Spring 2011.

Terry continued:

“What we also decided at the outset is that we would like the findings from the project to inform the development of effective policies. So we’re working closely with the Councils and key stakeholders in the case study community to get a sense of how best the findings can feed into their thinking and their initiatives.

“The new Government recently introduced the concept of the Big Society with the idea that there should be greater community empowerment and engagement. This project will shed some light on what routines or thought processes people tap into when they reuse. It will encompass the whole range of waste management – buying products with less packaging; re-using containers and packaging; recycling through kerbside schemes; and composting kitchen and garden waste.

“If we can tap into various lifestyle groups in society, then the messages can be made that much more relevant and be that much more effective.

“Not many of us know, or perhaps even care, where our rubbish goes. Some people will say ‘I put it out and it gets collected by the council doesn’t it? What more do I need to know?’ However, in an age of deficits, budget cuts and the need for greater efficiency, how much longer can we continue to just simply be wasters?”

The researchers hope the study results will help policy makers to target effective waste management policies at different and specific lifestyle groups.

In conjunction with the Royal Geographical Society, the project team will be hosting a seminar on 19 – 20 April 2011 at The University of Northampton to publicise the initial results.

The website for the project is: