After an 11-week challenge in partnership with design and innovation platform OpenIDEO, the eight winning ideas for Coca-Cola Enterprises’ (CCE) brief to encourage consumer recycling are as simple as an illustrative sticker and as complicated as a dedicated app. It’s all in a bid to close the recycling gap, helping consumers develop habits and the inclination to recycle when the packaging materials are designed to be used again.
“A few years ago, we realized we had this problem around recycling rates. We also realized that the vast majority of our packs are disposed of at home,” explains Joe Franses, CCE’s director of CSR.
As packaging accounts for 50 percent of CCE’s carbon footprint, and across the UK and France where the franchise primarily operates, only 50 percent of its bottles are currently collected for recycling: “That means the rest goes to landfill.”
CCE had already carried out some research, Unpacking the Household, in conjunction with the University of Exeter that aimed to identify the challenges and barriers to recycling at home. They observed 20 families, couples and single-person households in Great Britain and France, for six months. The study revealed that people don’t make conscious decisions about recycling, rather it’s instinctive behavior. Aesthetics are also a factor, with consumers not having the space or desire for an additional bin outside their home. Plus, common misconceptions and a lack of understanding remain about what actually happens to their recycling.
“People don’t realize that some of what is recycled can often come back full circle as another product, whether it’s a t-shirt or a bottle.”
Finally, digital communication and social media could be put to greater use, encouraging people to form new recycling habits.
The solution, then, was to collaborate in order to “find inspiring ideas that could be applied to improve recycling at home,” said Franses. And the partnership with OpenIDEO was born.
The initiative to improve consumer recycling habits, which offered no cash incentive, was flooded with responses, and an expert panel, including representatives from the likes of Forum for the Future, WRAP, FostPlus and Casino, had to narrow down 200 ideas and 320 different contributions into 25 shortlisted entries and finally eight winners.
“We’ve been delighted with the responses we have. OpenIDEO is a great community of thinkers who have applied their own thinking to this specific challenge,” said Franses.
Moving through the finalist spectrum saw a simple bin sticker and mobile apps, all the way to cause-related market initiatives such as Bottles for Smiles, which donates equivalent energy to a good cause when someone recycles.
Franses said it was unfair to choose his favourite, but admitted that he “really [likes] Less, I think it’s a really good idea,” as well as “How Do I Recycle?,” which helps determine where and how a product can be recycled.
It’s early days, with the results only just being announced, but Franses says the plan is to pilot and develop some of these innovations in a hope that they will eventually have an impact on CCE’s recycling rates.
But with the nature of open source, the likes of the expert advisory panel, or "companies like Ikea or Unilever” could also take forward any of the ideas, as well as anyone at a grassroots level.
Because these ideas are not limited to just recycling cans or bottles; it could incorporate anything from a shampoo bottle to an aerosol can. But Franses isn’t worried about other companies absconding with the ideas: “It doesn’t really matter. It’s about utilizing the power of the online community. We really hope we can encourage people to take them forward, and develop them into meaningful practice.”
When CCE looks across its value chain, it recognizes a number of significant challenges in terms of reducing impact.
“We’re very convinced that we cannot act alone,” Franses asserts. “We rely on collaboration. Those corporates that are committed to tackling sustainability in a serious way know that collaboration is going to be the heart of the future for sustainability,” whether that is working with online platforms such as OpenIDEO, suppliers or customers.
The truth is, materials, recyclability and relevant infrastructure are “utterly irrelevant” without the consumer placing the right pack in the right bin. And these collaborative ideas might just be the solution. Even if everyone else gets them too.
Here are the eight winning entries:
- Waste-free Wednesday: In a similar model to Meat-free Mondays, the aim is to not use products that will end up in landfill — just on Wednesdays — in a bid to make consumers think more habitually about waste.
- Bottles for Smiles: This one-for-one program transfers the benefits of recycling into an equivalent amount of energy that will benefit low-income families.
- How do I recycle this?: Consumers can use this app to scan a product’s barcode and input their postcode for information on how to recycle that item.
- Less: A social platform incentivizes users with competition with friends and demonstrates collective impact.
- Cycle-up: A web app ranks your recycling rates across your neighbourhood and even your city.
- Pimp your bin: A simple sticker that serves as a just-in-time reminder to help separate recycle from trash.
- R-blocks: Customizable recycling bin concept changes the perception of trash.
- Recy’Cream trucks: Kids and adults alike can trade in their recycling for all-fruit popsicles, lowfat frozen yogurt treats and fresh juices.
This post first appeared on the 2degrees blog on July 15, 2014.