BLUEPRINT Model - Changing behaviours

Summary notes

This page aims to provide insight and inspiration from the BLUEPRINT to a Circular Economy Project (BLUEPRINT Project) and industry leading organisations. Its objective is to support local authority officers to change behaviours to support a circular economy. This page will:

  • Detail the role of policies in changing resident behaviours in England and France.
  • Share insights into how local authorities can create successful behaviour change interventions.
  • Identify barriers and solutions to changing behaviours.
  • Consider the role of communications in delivering successful behaviour change interventions.
  • Highlight how collaboration and partnerships can achieve shared benefits and accelerate progress.
  • Share circular economy interventions developed as part of the BLUEPRINT Project.
  • Summarise data analysis, monitoring and evaluation of behaviour change interventions.

Introduction

To successfully move to a circular economy will require significant changes in the way people purchase, use and dispose of products and materials. Traditionally, a linear economy exists where resources are taken, used to make products, distributed for use, and then thrown away when they are no longer wanted. However, the concept of a circular economy has emerged as a solution to move away from wasteful practices and reduce the impact on the environment.

In a circular economy, products and materials are kept in use for longer. They are designed to be durable, easy to maintain and repair and be reused many times through borrowing, renting, and buying second-hand or refurbished products. When products or materials can no longer be reused, they are designed to enable straightforward recycling.

To significantly shift behaviours away from wasteful activities towards more circular activities will require a combined effort from central government, local authorities, businesses, academics, the voluntary sector, and individuals. This shift will only be achieved by delivering national and local policies that support or encourage circularity, by offering more circular products, materials and services, and through the delivery of effective information campaigns that change behaviours.

Before reading about changing behaviours and the circular economy further, it is recommended that your local authority completes the BLUEPRINT Baselining Activity. This will help you assess how your local authority is currently performing with regards to a circular economy – and help you identify areas where you are already performing well and identify areas of opportunity to improve circularity.

The role of legislation and policy in changing behaviours

Central government can influence people’s behaviours using policy instruments, or tools such as incentives, bans, and mandates. These actions can encourage businesses to deliver goods or services in a more circular way or encourage people to adopt more circular behaviours.

The EU Circular Economy Action Plan was created in 2015. Among other innovations, the action plan requires information to be available to consumers on the composition and quality of the items they buy, the possibility for them to be repaired and updated, and the availability of spare parts. The proposal for a Digital Products Passport (which includes information on the whole lifecycle of an item) will ensure transparency and traceability of production processes along the supply chain. It will also state if an item can be repaired and recycled, and can include data on greenhouse gas emissions[1], therefore allowing consumers to make more informed purchasing decisions.   

An English example

An example of this in England is through the introduction of the single-use carrier bag charge in 2015[2]. Since the law was introduced, there has been a 97% reduction in the use of single-use carrier bags from large retailers in England[3], with people opting for reusable alternatives to avoid paying the charge.

In England, a number of key national strategies and plans link with the circular economy, such as:

From these strategies emerge UK targets, that if delivered will support a more circular economy:

  • All plastic packaging to be recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025.
  • No food waste to landfill by 2030.
  • Eliminate all biodegradable waste to landfill by 2030.
  • Municipal waste to landfill to be 10% or less by 2035.
  • 65% recycling rate by 2035.
  • Eliminate avoidable plastic waste by 2042.
  • Double resource productivity by 2050.
  • Eliminate avoidable waste of all kinds by 2050.
  • Net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

A French example

An example from France is the introduction of Incentive Pricing in 2020 to over 200 communities. People are charged for waste disposal based on volume, weight or number of removals. It has been estimated that on average, implementing Incentive Pricing to households could reduce residual waste by 41%, increase the collection of packaging and paper by 30%, and reduce household waste by 8%.

Another French example is the introduction of the Repairability index in 2021[4]. The first of its kind among European countries, it applies to five categories of electrical appliances, including smartphones and laptops. The index is shown as an easy-to-read rating, from 1 to 10. The Repairability index will be replaced by the Durability index in 2024, which requires producers to disclose information on the full lifecycle of a product to allow consumers to make more informed buying decisions.

The French Anti-Waste Law[5] was adopted in 2020 to encourage businesses, municipalities, and citizens to eliminate waste and adopt more circular practices. Over 100 measures towards a circular economy were adopted under this law. A few of the key measures for system change include:

  • Eliminating plastic pollution through a range of policy measures, such as the:
    • Aim to phase out single-use plastic packaging by 2040 and recycle 100% of plastics by 2025.
    • Ban on everyday plastic items such as tea bags, disposable tableware, and disposal fruit and vegetable packaging.
    • Encourage the adoption of zero-waste practices such as the obligation for public institutions to be equipped with water fountains, fast food restaurants to provide reusable tableware, and the use of reusable containers and bulk sales in retail stores.
  • Tackling construction waste through Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).
  • Promoting reuse and employment through EPR funding.
  • Banning the destruction of unsold goods.
  • Encouraging repairs through a repairability index.

Creating successful behaviour change interventions

Local authorities and other organisations can support the delivery of information campaigns to help residents understand the impacts of their actions and adopt more sustainable behaviours. Delivering successful behaviour change requires interventions that share knowledge in a way that can transform attitudes and appeal to people’s motivations and values.

Behavioural science

Behavioural science seeks to understand human behaviours through research and experiments, such as social and environmental drivers. Supermarkets, for example, have tapped into this field to optimise sales through marketing and the environmental design of stores and products. Similarly, local authorities can use behavioural science to design services and interventions that achieve sustained behaviour change in support of a circular economy.

Making something too difficult requires reflective thinking, which requires energy! The default setting of human behaviour is to spend energy efficiently, and only do as much as necessary. When designing services or behaviour change interventions, the desired behaviour needs to create an automatic response.

An example of this could be applying careful consideration to the layout of recycling and waste containers for flats and improving the environment of bin storage areas. Research from Kent’s flats recycling pilot found that when recycling containers were located closer to where residents accessed the bins, they would often be contaminated with people disposing of their waste in the closest available container. Placing recycling containers slightly further away (while ensuring good lighting and clean storage areas) led to a reduction in recycling contamination. View the Kent flat recycling survey results to find out more.

The COM-B Model

The COM-B Model is often used when designing behaviour change interventions. The COM-B model identifies three key components to any behaviour (B): the capability (C), the opportunity (O), and the motivation (M). To perform a circular behaviour, people must feel they are both psychologically and physically able to do so, have the social and physical opportunity, and want to carry out the behaviour more than other competing behaviours[6]. Visit Social Change UK to read more about the COM-B model.

COM-B Model graphic

Figure 1. The COM-B Model (Source: Social Change UK)

Behaviour change techniques

There are a wide variety of behaviour change techniques that can support interventions to drive desired behaviours. These include social norming, nudge theory, loss aversion, and tied behaviours to name a few. Selecting the right technique or techniques for an intervention is an important step. Depending on budgets, seeking the expertise of a behaviour change consultancy may help to upskill employees and support officers to design services and successful behaviour change interventions.

Audience insights

Carrying out local research or using national research reports can provide insights into target audiences, such as key demographics and geographic locations, as well as helping to identify key audience motivations. This intelligence can be essential to creating value-for-money, successful interventions.

As part of the BLUEPRINT Project, Essex County Council’s Circular Economy and Research & Citizen Insight team carried out research to better understand residents’ attitudes towards food waste. Key findings identified that cost savings in reducing food waste at home was a key motivation. Information on planning ahead and food storage advice helped to reduce the amount of food thrown away. This research will be used to design behaviour change campaigns that seek to reduce food waste and improve the use of food recycling caddies by Essex residents. View the Essex Food Waste Research report to find out more.

In addition to local research, many national information sources on audience insights may be applied to your local area. Organisations such as WRAP and ADEME provide advice and implement campaigns to promote environmental action that local authorities can use.

Identifying behaviour change barriers and solutions

Identifying and understanding the barriers that prevent desired behaviours enables local authorities to design services and interventions that drive sustained behaviour change. Barriers can be identified in a number of ways, such as through observations and resident surveys.

As part of the BLUEPRINT Project, a report, Behaviour Change and the Circular Economy: Challenges faced by Local Authorities, identified barriers to changing behaviours in a waste and recycling context. Research was carried out through residents’ surveys, focus groups and localised studies to map customer journeys and gain insights to identify challenges raised by residents. Barriers identified included:

  • Uncertainty on how to reduce waste, with cost noted as a barrier.
  • Lack of skills or ability to repair items.
  • Perceived lack of information about local recycling.
  • Frustration over materials that cannot be recycled.

From this, recommendations were made to overcome these challenges – ranging from facilitating repair services and upskilling residents, providing clear and transparent communications on recycling to build trust, and improving recycling facilities in flats. Read the full Behaviour Change and the Circular Economy: Challenges faced by Local Authorities report to find out more.

The role of communication channels in changing behaviours

A wide variety of communication channels can be used to engage people on behaviour change campaigns and encourage them to take action by adopting desired behaviours. The types of channels used depend on the types of channels available and which ones best reach the target audience.

Internal communications

Driving circular economy behaviour change is not just for residents. It is just as important – if not more so – to lead by example within our local authorities, too. This could be through:

- Engaging with colleagues on the benefits of the circular economy and the role of these business models such as repair and maintenance, reuse and recycling.

- Demonstrating the ‘art of the possible’ to other councils and anchor institutions.

- Delivering long-term reputational and financial benefits for a local authority.

- Inspiring residents to ‘do their part’ to reduce waste in their area.

There are many ways to engage with colleagues using internal communication channels such as:

  • Intranet articles and guidance.
  • All employee newsletters.
  • Colleague Microsoft Teams channels (or similar).
  • Email correspondence.
  • Colleague social media groups such as Yammer.

An example of this is at Kent County Council where an event run by Environmental champions was a  ‘Freecycling’ day to support employees to pass on items they no long wanted, or to find new items, such as preloved clothes or books. Visit the Kent Freecycling page to find out more.

External communications

How residents engage with behaviour change interventions differs depending on the audience, opportunity and the budget available. All communications should be written in plain English and should follow your local authority’s accessibility guidelines. Online tools such as Hemingway can be useful in simplifying messages and ensuring they are appropriate for the audience. There are many communications channels to consider when planning an intervention, such as:

  • Press releases.
  • Website pages.
  • Newsletter content.
  • Social media posts.
  • Print media such as posters and leaflets.
  • Online webinars.
  • In-person events.

Some local authorities have dedicated communication channels that support behaviour change interventions. Others may instead use central channels to deliver behaviour change communications.

An example of dedicated communication channels is through the Love Essex brand in Essex. The Love Essex brand has been adopted by the Essex Waste Partnership to work together to:

- Create, promote or support campaigns that avoid or reduce waste

- Improve or maximise recycling and composting.

- Minimise the environmental impacts of managing, treating and disposing of waste in Essex.

Love Essex has dedicated communication channels such as the Love Essex website, newsletter, Youtube channel, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages.

Collaboration and partnerships

Delivering sustained behaviour change can be difficult to achieve. The power of partnerships and collaborations can bring resourcefulness, ideas and knowledge sharing, shared costs, and can deliver bigger impacts in shorter time periods. Local, regional, and national groups often work to tackle environmental issues. By working together with businesses, voluntary organisations and community groups, with council teams and volunteers, we can achieve more with less.

The BLUEPRINT Project itself is an example of cross-sector partnerships that deliver results to create a more circular economy – with partners from local authorities, academia, businesses and voluntary organisations.

Initiatives delivered as part of the BLUEPRINT Project also provide examples of partnerships and collaborations. Project partners PECT and Essex County Council worked with the charities Common Seas and Kids Against Plastics to use their Plastic Clever Schools platforms and resources to provide information on the circular economy. View the BLUEPRINT Plastic Clever Schools to find out more.

Circular economy interventions

BLUEPRINT Project campaigns share detailed insights into pilot projects aiming to inspire local authorities to launch similar initiatives. As well as detailing project descriptions, case studies will share challenges, opportunities, and lessons learnt.

View the full list of BLUEPRINT Project campaigns for more inspiration.

A Circular economy development document template has been developed as part of the BLUEPRINT Project, designed to support local authorities to define the scope, approach, and financial needs of a circular economy project.

Solution case studies have also been collated from across England and France to create a catalogue of inspirational activities that encourage local authorities to support or run similar projects in their areas. Case studies will include initiatives that aim to design out waste and pollution; keep products and materials in use at the highest value for as long as possible; and regenerate natural systems. The solutions can be browsed by theme, material, and location.

Your local authority can also view the BLUEPRINT to a Circular Economy Project’s Circular Economy Directory to find businesses, services and charities in the France Channel England (FCE) region supporting a circular economy.

Data analysis, monitoring and evaluation

The availability of timely data and related analysis can provide the basis for developing systems, interventions and communications. These can target areas of opportunity, the intended audience and allow for continuous monitoring and improvement. In planning behaviour change interventions, setting measurable key performance indicators will allow local authority officers to gauge progress, identify risks, implement improvements and deliver results.

Baseline data

Baseline data is essential to understand the current situation and areas of opportunity, as well as measuring the impact of interventions. Pilot projects can provide evidence when testing new ideas and to support decision-making to roll out (or not to roll out) an intervention. Comparing baseline data against project results will help to evidence successes and lessons learnt to shape future campaigns and messages. The Circulates tool has been developed by BLUEPRINT Project partners, EcoWise, to support local authorities to link waste flows with circular economy interventions. View step four, the monitor and evaluate section, to find out more.

Data recommendations

One recommendation from BLUEPRINT Project research is to devise and deploy an annual household survey per product category (e.g., textiles, furniture and appliances) to understand product acquisition and use. This would enhance information to improve reuse, repair, refurbishment and remanufacturing strategies via campaigns and infrastructure. Project partners, EcoWise, designed a wardrobe survey to better understand behaviours around clothing and textile consumption and disposal. View the Local Authority Waste Management Data Analysis Challenges and the Circular Economy report to find out how you can apply this approach to problem materials in your area (page 17).

Carbon accounting

Increasingly, carbon accounting is a new metric being added to waste reduction reporting. To report greenhouse gas emissions in terms of an organisation’s activities, the carbon emissions need to be converted into ‘activity data’ such as tonnes of waste disposed. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has created a conversion factor spreadsheet and guidance on how to use the conversions is updated annually. Visit DEFRA Conversion Factors page to find out more.

Research, reports and presentations

Many key organisations lead the way for a circular economy, including:

  • ADEME - (the French Environment and Energy Management Agency) – provides expertise and advice to businesses, local authorities, communities, government bodies and the public to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) – is a leading professional membership organisation for individuals in the sustainability, resources and waste management sector.
  • CITEO provides free resources from its environmental campaigns, with a particular focus on making sorting for recycling easier in France.
  • Ellen MacArthur Foundation provides online resources covering all aspects of the circular economy.
  • Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) – provides online resources and hosts events to support officers working in waste management, as well as influencing UK waste policy. 
  • Local Government Association (LGA) – is a national membership body for local authorities working on behalf of member councils to support, promote and improve local government.
  • ReLondon is a partnership of the Mayor of London and the London boroughs to improve waste and resource management and transform the city into a leading low carbon circular economy.
  • Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) – works around the globe with governments, businesses, and citizens to make the world a more sustainable place. They share insights and resources on a range of reduction, reuse and recycling opportunities. Clothing longevity and circular business models receptivity in the UK, explores purchasing habits, barriers and potential solutions, with specific advice on what to consider if planning a campaign to reduce textile waste and to promote buying second hand/renting/repairing clothes.
  • Zero Waste Scotland is a not-for-profit environmental organisation, using evidence and insights to inform policy, and motivate individuals and businesses to embrace the environmental, economic, and social benefits of a circular economy.
  • Hubbub aims to act on environmental issues through collaboration, promoting community-led action, using playful language and good design to change behaviours.

BLUEPRINT Project research and reports

As part of the BLUEPRINT to a Circular Economy project, a number of reports have been published – these listed below may be of interest to officers working on behaviour change initiatives:

Find all BLUEPRINT Project reports here.

Presentations from the BLUEPRINT Roadshow