Road map to encourage recycling behaviour

Coca-Cola will collect and recycle 100% of the bottles and cans we sell by 2030 as part of our global vision of creating a World Without Waste. An ambitious mission statement that requires collaboration and also engaging our consumers. This implies understanding consumer behaviour and knowing how to trigger certain behaviour. This is why Coca-Cola collaborated with behavioural expert Mats Postema and his team to develop a behavioural road map. This map provides a tool to communicate effectively to try and win hearts and minds on recycling. On the 3rd of November, Coca-Cola hosted the Open Live webinar, sharing insights and the map by combining theoretical knowledge and practical examples. A summary with highlights of the webinar can be read below. You will also find an accompanying video with some key messages from the session.

Our responsibility in encouraging, inspiring and helping people to recycle

The topic of supporting behavioural change on recycling is not new. The map helps to better understand and learn from examples of the theory in practice. A brand like Coca-Cola has a role to play in encouraging, inspiring and helping people to recycle, because the more high-quality recycled PET available for use in our bottles, the less new materials we need to use. And ultimately, to eliminate the use of new virgin fossil fuel-based plastic altogether.

Coca-Cola also knows it needs to look at alternatives to plastic and we are doing just that - from refillables, packaging free solutions to paper bottles. Next to this, understanding people’s behaviour when it comes to recycling is also vital if we’re going to win hearts and minds on this. Our research has shown us, if you press certain buttons you can make a real difference to how people respond towards recycling.


  • Choose INDIVIDUAL if you can interact 1-on-1 with people, for example if you have the data to send personalized messages via email or social media. Or if you have customers that come to visit your store and you can (directly) talk to them in person.
  • Choose SURROUNDING if you have the ability to alter these surroundings. Simply put: if you have the ability to put bins or signage in place.
  • Choose OUTSIDE VOICE if the brand you work for uses regular or digital out of home advertising or other marketing activities as a form of communication towards the consumer.


Understanding behaviour

Research conducted by behavioural expert Mats Postema and his team showed that how we behave is the result of buttons being pushed in our brain. And when it comes to recycling and how we behave, it is no different. Whether someone will recycle or not, depends on the situation in which you find yourself, determining what buttons are pushed. Generally speaking, there are three main elements that influence and push our buttons: individual, surroundings and outside voice. These are your starting points. Depending on the means you have to influence behaviour, you choose either one of the starting points.

Pushing the right buttons as a brand

Exercising your influence as an outside voice party simply means any message consumers may see, hear or read that influences their behaviour and pushes their buttons. This could be anything, from a message on a poster at a festival, or a pop up on their socials, or it could even be your prime minister talking on the radio or TV about new covid measures. Some outside voice buttons are brand strength, CSR match and a sense of common purpose.

Interested to learn more about the outside voice route and how to interpret and apply those buttons? Please watch our ‘outside voice video’ and increase your knowledge on how to exercise your outside voice to encourage recycling behaviour.

A portfolio of solutions

There is no one size fits all approach. Each individual needs to be approached differently, depending on the situation he or she is in. And it’s not about finding the one perfect solution. It’s more about what is the portfolio of solutions to get us towards a world without waste. The outside voice as an isolated route is not the holy grail, it is very much entwined with the individual route and the surroundings route. This map helps us define the relevant connection points; to pinpoint WHERE we can take action and DO it in an effective way.

Q&A session: fighting inertia, education and the biggest challenges

During the webinar, Mats emphasized that there is also the problem of inertia: we’re all human beings and most of the time we care about recycling, but we all have our days off. Brands can fight inertia by making recycling easier. The best thing you can do is focus on the sense of a common purpose, because that will inevitably lead to the feeling that the goal is achievable; if they can do it, I can do it. Emphasizing on showing the results will help decrease the feeling of inertia.

The biggest barrier of all when it comes to recycling is that you have to put the effort into it for the long term. To begin with really understanding who you are trying to reach, what their beliefs are and getting the tone right. There are many examples of brands trying to just copy paste old work, thinking if a certain approach works for one situation, it should also work for another. Which means that the approach will not fit the cause. In any given situation, people will have a different level of knowledge on recycling; people need to be educated on the colours of bins, facilities and signage in general. Governments also have an important role to play there.

Lastly, there must be a good CSR-match because of reactance. Unfortunately, that can never be truly eliminated, because it’s also part of the deal of being a big brand. Big brands are supposed to take responsibility because people will listen. But consumers will also inevitably feel they are being told what to do, that they’re being restricted in some way. The only solution here is, once again, to stick to it for the long term. Endure.

Highlights video

Curious to find out more about the other examples Coca-Cola elaborated on during the webinar and to learn more about the behavioural map? Watch our highlights video below to increase your knowledge on how to encourage recycling behaviour.