Workshop: Future for public communication about waste

SESSION G07 / 11 October 2023 / 11:00 - 12:30
Workshop: Future for public communication about waste
Chair / Presidente: Ian Williams, Peter Shaw (UK)

We all know that our modern society faces many pressing problems, of which the development of a sustainable approach to waste and resource management is just one. Enabling effective resource management requires active public engagement and motivation – alongside appropriate infrastructure and service provision - and this is hugely challenging. Many political, environmental, social, technological, legal and economic approaches have been trialed, but only slow progress has been achieved.

Traditional methods of public communication about waste - consultation papers and requests for comments; community information (posters, leaflets, doorstepping, focus groups); meetings (private or public); citizens’ juries & parliaments; workshops & seminars; advisory panels, committees and fora; stalls at fairs / events; mass media campaigns (radio / TV / the Internet) – tend to have limited, mainly short-term impacts. Even very high-profile campaigns in the UK – the use of popular children’s TV characters The Wombles to highlight the problem of littering and the Waste and Resources Action Programme’s highly acclaimed “Love Food Hate Waste” campaign did not stop litter and food waste, respectively, from continuing to rise. This is because these methods tended to assume that the divergence between scientific and public views on such topics are fundamentally caused by incomplete/flawed public knowledge, and so communication efforts focused on public education and awareness raising. In fact, recent studies have highlighted that ideology, not knowledge, best predicts environment-related attitudes and behaviour, leading researchers to move away from investigating cognitive bias towards investigating the effectiveness of emotion-based approaches.

The problem is particularly notable in waste management due to the scale and immediacy of the issues at stake. Whilst the public may be aware of general waste management related issues, they may be unaware of new and emerging issues and the collective positive impacts they can cause by changing their behaviour. This is significant, since: i) citizen support is essential for implementation of new and/or ambitious waste-related policies and ii) populism and its rhetoric are currently burgeoning, often influencing the public away from policies based on science-based evidence, Hence, in order to communicate waste-related information in a way that is more accessible to the public, and actually leads to desired behavior change, new methods must be explored. Citizen support is essential for implementation of ambitious waste-related policies/strategies/action plans.

This workshop will address the question “What is the future for public communications about waste?” An initial overview presentation will set the context for the workshop; this will outline typical methods currently used to communicate/consult with the public, with illustrative examples. As an introductory exercise, participants will be asked to provide their views on the topic, and the other questions it generates. Working in small groups, participants will be tasked to:

1. Identify which methods are used to communicate/consult with the public about waste and discuss which methods work best, and why (providing evidence – anecdotes are interesting but they are just anecdotes);
2. Discuss which methods we should use in the years leading up to 2030, and why we should be using these methods;
3. Share the outcomes of small group discussions in a plenary session involving all participants.