My first job as a postdoctoral research assistant involved studying motivation and pro-environmental behaviour. This was new to me (I trained as an archaeologist!) and I found it fascinating: motivation is not a one-size-fits-all activity. What serves to encourage one person may leave someone else cold. Some are driven by intrinsic motivation, such as feelings of pride or wanting to be helpful. For others, it’s all about the extrinsic motivation, such as a tangible reward. Some are motivated by the carrot, others by wishing to avoid the stick. For a good overview of this, I highly recommend Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth about what Motivates Us.
So, what does all of this have to do with litter and recycling? For most people, and I would imagine that includes everyone reading this, our reason for not littering and making sure we recycle as much as we can is intrinsic: we take pride in ourselves and our environment. We recognise that resources are finite and recycling is the best way to ensure that things don’t go to waste (after reducing and re-using of course!).
But for others, they need that extrinsic push in order to change their behaviour. Currently, there is absolutely no incentive or disincentive to stop littering or to encourage recycling. Sure, there are supposed to be £80 on-the-spot fines for littering, but how often are they actually handed out in Chippenham? Yes, kerbside recycling is standard … but why bother carrying a bottle home if it can just be chucked out a car window? If we don’t support carrots such as reverse vending machines or bottle bills, or society withholds the stick and turns a blind eye at this behaviour, should we be surprised by the amount of rubbish and recycling found?
In 2015, we found 1691 plastic bottles in Chippenham. Let’s hope that 2016 brings far fewer!