2 October 2014 by Steve Eminton

Positive recycling messages ‘bring the best results’

Taking a positive approach in communications about recycling for households and people at work will bring the best results, according to research produced by Ceris Burns International (CBI).

Working with research firm Mindlab International, the study, ‘Selling recycling to a sceptical public’, found that people with a negative view of recycling are more likely to change their attitude after seeing positive messages about the benefits.

Results from the independent study also showed that there is still a marked indifference towards recycling at work. A large number of the respondents admitted simply not bothering if recycling facilities are not provided on site; and many also said that confusion still reigns when it comes to being sure about what items can and cannot be recycled – at home or at work.

The researchers said the study comes agains a background of discussions about the ‘carrot’ or ‘stick’ approach and they noted: “Could more aggressive tactics such as ‘pay as you throw’ or a tax on litter be counter productive?”


The key recommendation from the report is that recycling campaigns should use “encouraging, engaging and inclusive imagery” as a “smart strategy for future success”.

Among the findings of the report were that 69% of respondents preferred leaflets as the main method of receiving information about recycling services. The report notes: “Mobile technology and social media have become such a part of our day-to-day lives that we could be forgiven for thinking that other methods of communication have become obsolete. Our research proved this is not so, with 69% of respondents preferring to receive leaflets – our top answer. Receiving information via the internet came in second, followed by conventional letters and then TV and radio.”

(Video courtesy of Institute of Directors’ magazine Director)

Commenting on the findings, Ceris Burns, managing director of Ceris Burns International, said: “Recycling programmes abound, but rates are still not yet at EU targets. Greater public participation in recycling schemes is desirable, but how can we get more people to recycle? The message from this research is it’s all about the message.

Positive messages work, according to the CBI best practice guide

Positive messages work, according to the CBI best practice guide

“Positive phrasing and communication will get the best results, instead of more negative ways to encourage people to recycle such as ‘pay as you throw’. Our study showed that positive messages had the greatest effect on those who are hardest to reach, the people who are more cynical about its benefits on the environment, and consequently recycle less.”

Other key points from the study include:

  • 44% probably wouldn’t make the effort to take their recycling elsewhere if they didn’t have facilities at work
  • Just over half of the respondents would encourage work colleagues to recycle
  • Recycling facilities at work are high but could be increased – 78% of respondents said they had recycling bins
  • 52% are confused about what they can and can’t recycle

The survey sample saw 200 people complete an online test which consisted of questions regarding their current recycling behaviour and attitudes to recycling. They then viewed either positive or negative images and messages about recycling; followed by an implicit test measuring how important they felt recycling was; finishing by answering questions about their intentions to recycle in the future.

Related links:
Ceris Burns International


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