Plastics and Behavior Change: Disposal Theme

This page provides case studies, academic research and thought pieces related to plastic disposal and behavior change.

Disposal is the last step of the plastic pollution life-cycle. This can include many things, from recycling and reuse to combatting litter. The following thought pieces, theories, and case studies provide a wealth of examples of how behavioral science can reduce barriers, understand values, and encourage people to dispose of plastics thoughtfully and intentionally. At the bottom of the page, you’ll see the resources and toolboxes from the home page that may help you in building your own initiatives.

Thought pieces and theory:

If you are working on…

      • Recycling and disposal, check out how choice architecture, in this case how different recycling hole shapes and sizes, impact recycling. Read how making nudges visible can help increase recycling rates. Speaking of nudges, there are lots of different kinds to can improve  – but some are better than others to increase recycling. Beyond nudges, social influence can play a key role in getting more people to recycle and properly manage waste in general. An in-depth literature review found that messaging that focuses on social norms can reduce plastic waste, as can well-framed choice architecture initiatives. The literature review also contains a host of other behavioral interventions related to plastic (e.g. bag bans, the power of commitment, etc.). Another meta-analysis found that both context and individual factors influence recycling behavior; specifically, perceived behavioral control, personal norms, and recycling self-identity influence if a person recycles or not. This study of Chilean school children finds evidence that environmental education and parental influence can predict proper plastic recycling behavior. In this literature review, read how, amongst other things, accessibility to recycling schemes impacts recycling outcomes. If a behavioral model is more your style, see how the Capability, Opportunity, and Motivation model (COM-B) can be used to understand peoples’ relationship with plastic waste. If you want even more behavioral model content, see this paper, which looks at the COM-B model, the Action-Actor-Context-Target-Time framework, and the Behavior Change Wheel as ways to increase recycling. Or, see how the Behavior Change Wheel was applied to compostable (bio)plastics in the UK. Finally, see this thorough chapter that follows the supply chain of plastic, including plastic recycling and management.
Case studies:

If you focus on…

          • Recycling, see this study on reducing hassle factors to increase recycling in Peru or this study on recycling values and outcomes in Indonesia and Argentina. Read about Bangkok’s use of a phone app to turn recyclable plastics into cash, vending machines in China that are taking in plastic waste, and other initiatives from around the world in the Alliance to End Plastic Waste’s Our Work section. You can read how behavioral principles like offering incentives and making behaviors convenient underpin the post successful deposit-return systems. See how “inclusive recycling” and focusing on trash pickers as key actors can change the outcome of recycling program for the better.
          • Plastic cleanup, check out (link forthcoming) how the Chilean Chiloé Islands created a Pride Campaign and used social marketing to reduce clean up disposed plastics.

Keep in mind that this webpage is a living one – we will continue adding relevant content as the world of behavioral science grows! If you have any thought pieces or research surrounding behavioral science and the following topics, don’t hesitate to reach out:

Waste segregation, recycling programs, deposit-return systems, community cleanup initiatives, plastic collection drives, landfill management, local collection centers, public and private partnerships and/or plastic cleanup technologies.

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