Empowering consumers to increase recycling

Increasing the use of reverse vending machines through consumer empowerment

Coca-Cola Great Britain Pilots Reverse Vending Machines

Getting consumers to recycle can be a challenge in and of itself. But what happens when consumers recycle incorrectly? The increase in single-stream recycling programs has resulted in substantial contamination (i.e., the rate of unrecyclable or contaminated material mixed in with recyclables). Some estimates suggest that there is an average of 25% contamination in the materials collected in single-stream recycling receptacles, up from just 7% a decade ago. This often results in large amounts of otherwise recyclable material being sent to the landfill, because it is too contaminated to be recycled. Reverse Vending Machines, or RVMs, are machines that accept empty bottles and cans, thereby helping to avoid contamination in recycling.

The goal of this research is to identify the optimal strategies to increase recycling via RVMs. Two interrelated strategies that can be effective in motivating desired behavior, such as recycling, are consumer choice and consumer empowerment. Further research is needed to understand if the size of a donation matters to motivate material recovery. Optimally, a firm wanting to encourage use of RVMs wants to neither expend unnecessary resources nor invite unintended consequences. Additionally, research has found that consumer empowerment can increase consumer motivation to behave in ways that benefit a firm. Specifically, giving consumers the opportunity to vote for an important firm decision, like the recipient of the firm’s donations, fosters a collaborative relationship with the firm, increasing desired behaviors, such as patronage and loyalty. Thus, we propose to test if giving consumers a voice in how recyclable materials are used can further motivate materials recovery via RVMs.

Through a set of three field experiments and supplementary lab studies, we will study 1) what is the most efficient size of a donation to increase RVM use while reducing costs to the firm? and 2) What type of consumer empowerment (donation-voting vs. production-voting) is most effective at promoting use of the RVM machines?

Methods: We will run 3 field experiments, whereby a set of RVMs will be installed in a large (upwards of 20,000 seats) event space. We will manipulate messaging on the RVMs and signage around the event space per experimental condition. In addition to evaluating RVM use in the field, our research will also incorporate user intercept surveys and lab experiments to understand consumer impressions of the messaging.

Significance: This research will identify strategies to promote contamination-free recycling via RVM use.

Project Phase: Research protocol development

Collaborators: The project PI is Dr. Grant Donnelly (OSU Fisher)

Funding acknowledgement: The Coca-Cola company.