Using Behavior Change in a Plastic World

This guide provides research, thought pieces, case studies and tools as models for plastics practitioners world-wide.

Plastics and Behavior Change: How Do They Relate?

Plastic crisis. Microplastics. Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Single-use plastic. Today, the plastic buzzwords are almost as ubiquitous as the plastics themselves. While plastics have done much good for the world (for example, in the medical field), it is hard to deny that humanity’s reliance on this fossil-fuel product has reached unsustainable levels. Statistics estimate that 91% of plastic ever made has not been recycled, that there will be more plastic than fish in the sea (by weight) by 2050, plastic kills hundreds of thousands of marine animals every year, and plastic production is releasing millions of metric tons into an already-polluted atmosphere annually. To say there is a lot to be done is an understatement – but to say nothing is being done is incorrect. Many organizations are using a variety of tools to combat the plastic crisis, and we want to highlight those accomplishments here.

As with many planet-scale issues, behavioral interventions are a critical but often under-used tool. The purpose of this guide, supported by UNDP, GEF, and SGP, is three-fold:

  1. To provide alignment on relevant definitions relating to plastics and behavior change;
  2. To offer a literature review, broken down by theme, of research, case studies and thought pieces as examples of behaviorally-informed solutions; and
  3. To encourage all practitioners to implement behavioral changes in their work with the help of toolkits and resources.


There are many ways to categorize the world of plastics thematically. We felt that in this case, using the life-cycle of plastic would be appropriate. We excluded the first life-cycle step, extraction, as we did not find much behavior-change work being done to stop mega-corporations from their extraction process (but if you know something we don’t, please share!).

  1. Production: this includes design, production, packaging and distribution.
  2. Use: this includes both deciding to use and deciding not to use plastics.
  3. Disposal: this includes subthemes like recycling, upcycling, reuse, and intentional/non-intentional littering.

Click on each of the cards below to find case studies, academic research and thought pieces for each life-cycle stage. On the bottom of this home page and the bottom of the individual theme pages, you’ll find resources and toolkits on how to incorporate behavioral science into your own plastic-focused initiatives.

Disclaimer: Please note that these solutions and resources are tools, and far from one-size-fits-all solutions to each problem. Variation in geographic location, culture, tradition, education level, gender norms, etc. mean that what works in one place of the world may not work in another.

Behavioral Science and Plastic Toolkit Resources

Click on each button to reveal a description of each tool, as well as helpful links and information.

  • This is Rare’s approach to designing behavioral solutions for conservation and environmental challenges, inspired by design thinking and behavior change principles. This approach uses eight different steps and is meant to be an iterative process. Many BCD resources are available on the Center for Behavior & the Environment’s website,, though those interested in an in-depth understanding can sign up for a course on

  • Want to evaluate your behavior change program with a behavior change lens? Use this tool to reflect on how your program is applying principles and practices of Behavior-Centered Design.

  • The PREVENT Waste Alliance prioritizes innovative methods to creating a sustainable circular economy, especially in the world of plastics. Applying for and attaining a membership on the PREVENT site will grant you access to their HUB, which provides networking opportunities and resources on cross-cutting topics like behavior change.

  • Break Free From Plastic focuses specifically on ways to eradicate plastic pollution by analyzing opportunities to do so along the plastic supply chain. From brand audits to ideas for plastic reduction on school campuses, and from social media campaign ideas to a membership platform with many resources, this site provides a plethora of inspiration for ways behavior change can be inspired worldwide.

  • This resource from Delterra, called Plastics IQ, is “a digital tool that is changing the way companies understand their plastic footprint, make better packaging decisions, and transition towards a circular economy.” Using interactive platforms, users can explore both issues and solutions, including behavioral interventions.

  • US Plastic Pact provides resources for “businesses, not-for-profit organizations, government agencies, and research institutions” who work with post-consumer recycled content (PCR). They provide a toolkit that encourages the more use of PCR and less use of virgin plastic and is helpful for those working with plastic production. The toolkit’s focus on consumer participation inherently relates to behavior change, both at an institutional level and a individual level.

  • The 5 Minute Beach Cleanup initiative began on social media in Costa Rica and has since grown into a powerhouse organization with the goal to encourage anybody, anywhere to help clean trash. Their work is people- and organization-focused, and their site provides a variety of ways that behavior-focused campaigns can lead to wide-spread success, including in the tourism industry, in education, and for sustainable economies.

  • If you know of another resource that provides information on plastic production, use, and/or disposal AND behavior change, email our Center for Behavior and the Environment (BE.Center) team at