Municipal waste production is one of the most widely recognised environmental issues in society today. In the UK, households are responsible for generating millions of tonnes of waste materials each year, with food waste proving to be a particularly problematic waste stream. Local authorities, who are responsible for waste management, have historically relied on changes to physical infrastructure or informational interventions to drive performance improvements. However, in times of increasing financial pressures, there has been a growing recognition that the transition to a sustainable, resilient and resourceful society will require fundamental changes to the way people think and behave. Indeed, what connects many modern-day sustainability challenges are their roots in human behaviour.
While various ?tools of government? can be employed to realise strategic public policy objectives, emergent localism and the apparent ineffectiveness of this traditional approach catalysed a shift towards ensuring that statutory requirements were delivered more efficiently than ever before. This led to a widespread application of ?insights?, synthesised from behavioural sciences, to inform the design, implementation and evaluation of new policy interventions. Enthusiasm to the so-called ?nudge? approach, which recognises that behaviour can be strongly and automatically influenced by the context in which it is situated, soon trickled down to local government, creating a growing appetite for the approach. These collective ?behavioural insights? provided local authorities with a powerful new set of policy tools that, if used correctly, could be used to influence waste behaviours.
This research explored their application by evaluating the efficacy and affordability of those nudges that could feasibly be introduced at scale by local authority practitioners to produce a positive and sustained influence on household food waste recycling behaviour. By adopting a mixed-methods approach it was shown that, by making simple changes to the existing ?choice environment? in Surrey, it was possible to ?nudge? households towards engaging (more) in food waste recycling behaviour. Further, it was found that prompt-based nudges, using stickers as the medium of delivery, were particularly effective, with effects persisting for far longer than has typically been achieved using more ?traditional? informational policy interventions.
While popular, the practice of ?nudging? has a range of issues, both conceptual and controversial, so it is important for policymakers to be aware of the differing philosophies, efficacy, methodologies and ethics associated with these types of intervention. While nudges may not be the ?silver bullet?, it is argued that they are, at least for now, useful devices for policymakers to have in their ?toolkit?.