Social and behavioural enablers to ending plastic waste

June 1st, 2023

Social and behaviour change are critical for changing our relationship with plastics. We’ll cover social and behavioural enablers to ending plastic waste, which includes survey work on eco-packaging purchasing behaviour and social licencing for advanced recycling. Download a PDF copy of the presentations given at the Symposium here:

Reducing plastic waste and shifting towards a circular approach to consumption of plastic requires a range of new consumer behaviours and social licence considerations. This presentation overviews the behavioural changes and social enablers needed to support this shift. This overview provides a preamble and introduction to the session’s subsequent science presentations.

  • Understanding household plastic waste behaviour in India through the lens of social practice theory [Not available to download – please contact speaker] – Murni Po (CSIRO) 

Pollution from plastic packaging waste is a critical environmental issue faced by many countries.  Plastic packaging is used widely by households in their everyday activities inside and outside the home and is a major contributor to plastic waste in India.  This study sought to inform the development of policies and programs that encourage the purchasing of products with environmentally friendly packaging and minimising packaging waste. We did this through exploring the factors that influence household practices around plastic packaging purchasing decisions – both minimising of packaging consumption and making environmentally friendly choices.  We combined social practice theory with additional psychological constructs to understand routinised plastic packaging practices at household level.  An online survey was administered to 558 households living in three cities in India: Agra, Hardiwar and Panjim.  The study identified several factors that significantly contributed to household practices that would reduce the use of plastic packaging: these include ease of access to products with environmentally friendly packaging, their affordability and knowing how to purchase them.  Other findings will also be discussed.

  • Circular economy in India: A Bayesian belief network analysis of household purchasing and disposal behaviour of plastics – Sorada Tapsuwan (CSIRO)

Annually, India generates about 62 Mt municipal solid waste.​ Plastic waste represents 8% of the total waste generation in India.​ The packaging sector is a key consumer of plastic goods, around 43& of all plastic goods. Although plastic waste consumption in India (11kg) is low relative to the global average (28kg), the Indian economy is growing, and with this, a growing trend in plastic consumption and disposal of plastic waste. The concept of circular economy is based on three key principles: 1) elimination of waste and pollution, 2) circulate produces and materials, and 3) regenerate nature. By applying circular economy, India will be able to decouple its growing economic activity from the consumption of finite resources that are being extracted to produce plastics. The objective of this research paper is to understand 1) What are the responsible disposal behaviour of plastic waste that people are practicing?​, 2) What are households doing to reduce their consumption of plastic packaging?​, and 3) What are the factors that affect household behaviour, including internal and external factors? To answer these questions, we applied a Bayesian Belief Network (BBN) analysis to examine two types of household behaviour: 1) purchasing behaviour of products with plastic packaging and 2) disposal behaviour of plastic waste. We used a theoretical framework called Social Practice Theory (SPT) to understand behaviours, social practices, and factors contributing to barriers and success of a desirable behaviour. Social practice refers to the everyday routine activities that comprise day to day living and formed through three interconnected elements: materials, competencies, and meanings. ​Material refers to the technologies, tools, infrastructure, or material objects used in performing the practice. Competence refers to the skills or knowledge needed to carry out the practice. Meaning refers to the values, social norms, attitudes, feelings, and symbolic meanings associated with the practice. Specifically, around meaning, we applied the concept of psychological distancing to explain how perceived physical and temporal distance from a problem could influence household behaviour. Preliminary findings from the survey and the BBN analysis suggest that households are highly educated in India, with a large proportion of respondents having at least a bachelor’s degree. However, the BBN revealed that an increase in the level of education for the rest of the population does not help reduce plastic waste going to landfills. A more effective solution to reducing plastic waste is for households to overcome the perceived physical and temporal distance of plastic waste problems in India, as there are still some who do not believe that environmental problems from plastic waste will affect them.

Australia needs recycling innovation to address its growing plastic waste management challenge, with most mixed plastic waste at risk of being sent to landfill due to changes in our export laws. Advanced recycling (AR) technologies can recover these plastics, but industry needs to address community concerns for these technologies to be adopted. This presentation explores a new technique for identifying and analysing emerging public narratives regarding the advanced recycling technologies for plastic waste. Using natural language processing software and AI, the aim is to anticipate emerging trends in public attitudes towards new technologies to facilitate early and informed two-way community engagement that can deliver outcomes which are socially responsible and acceptable, and in this way support the deployment and scaling up of new technologies.