Coca-Cola crowdsources 8 ways to reinvent recycling

After an 11-week challenge in partnership with design and innovation platform OpenIDEO, the eight winning ideas for Coca-Cola Enterprises' brief to encourage consumer recycling are as simple as an illustrative sticker and as complicated as a dedicated app.

It's all in a bid to close the recycling gap, helping consumers develop habits and the inclination to recycle when the packaging materials are designed to be used again.

"A few years ago, we realized we had this problem around recycling rates. We also realized that the vast majority of our packs are disposed of at home," said Joe Franses, CCE's director of CSR.

Packaging accounts for 50 percent of its carbon footprint. And across the U.K., as well as France where the franchise primarily operates, only 50 percent of its bottles are collected for recycling. "That means the rest goes to landfill," Franses said.

CCE already had carried out some research, "Unpacking the Household" (PDF), in conjunction with the University of Exeter, which aimed to identify the challenges and barriers to recycling at home. They observed 20 couples, families and single-person households in Great Britain and France for six months.

The study revealed that people don't make conscious decisions about recycling; rather, it's instinctive behavior. Aesthetics are also a factor, with consumers not having the space or desire for an additional bin outside their home. Plus, common misconceptions and a lack of understanding remain about what actually happens to their recycling.

"People don't realize that some of what is recycled can often come back full circle as another product, whether it's a T-shirt or a bottle," Franses said.

Finally, digital communication and social media could be put to greater use, encouraging people to form new recycling habits.

The solution, then, was to collaborate in order to "find inspiring ideas that could be applied to improve recycling at home," said Franses. And the partnership with open-source platform OpenIDEO was born.

The initiative to improve consumer recycling habits, which offered no cash incentive, was flooded with responses. An expert panel, including representatives from the likes of Forum for the Future, WRAP, FostPlus and Casino, had to narrow down 200 ideas and 320 contributions into 25 shortlisted entries and finally eight winners.

Credit: Alper Yağlıoğlu via OpenIDEO

"We've been delighted with responses we have. OpenIDEO is a great community of thinkers who have applied their own thinking to this specific challenge," said Franses.

What was it that made these eight so special? "We were impressed by their creativity … and with the whole range of ideas," Franses said. The finalist spectrum saw a simple bin sticker, mobile apps, all the way to cause-related market initiatives such as Bottles for Smiles, which donated equivalent energy to a good cause when someone recycles.

Franses said it was unfair to choose his favorite, but admitted that he "really [likes] Less, I think it's a really good idea," as well as "How Do I Recycle?" that helps determine where and how a product can be recycled.

The results only just have been announced, but the plan is to pilot and develop some of these innovations in the hope that they eventually will have an impact on CCE's recycling rates. "We're looking actively into that now," Franses said.

But with the nature of open source, the likes of the expert advisory panel or "companies like Ikea or Unilever" could also take forward any of the ideas, as well as anyone at a grassroots level.

Because these ideas are not limited to just recycling cans or bottles; it could incorporate anything from a shampoo bottle to an aerosol can. "It doesn't really matter," Franses said. "It's about utilizing the power of the online community."

With all the work that's been put into the project and supporting research, shouldn't the generated ideas be kept under wraps and patented instead of sharing it with peers? "We really hope we can encourage people to take them forward, and develop them into meaningful practice," Franses said.

Credit: Rob Han via OpenIDEOWhen CCE looks across its value chain, it recognizes a number of significant challenges in terms of reducing impact. "We're very convinced that we cannot act alone," Franses said. "We rely on collaboration. Those corporates that are committed to tackling sustainability in a serious way know that collaboration is going to be the heart of the future for sustainability," whether that is working with customers, suppliers or online platforms such as OpenIDEO.

The truth is, materials, recyclability and relevant infrastructure are "utterly irrelevant" without the consumer placing the right item in the right bin.

And these collaborative ideas might just be the solution. Even if everyone else gets them too.

Want a glimpse of recycling incentives of the future? Here are eight ways to reinvent waste disposal.

Waste-free Wednesday

In a similar model to Meat-free Mondays, the aim is to not use products that will end up in landfill — just for Wednesdays — in a bid to make consumers think more habitually about waste.

Bottles for Smiles

This one-for-one program transfers the benefits of recycling into an equivalent amount of energy that will benefit low-income families.

How do I recycle this?

Consumers can use this app to scan a product's barcode and input their postcode for information on how to recycle that item.

LessCredit: Nancy Kelly via OpenIDEO

A social platform incentivizes users with competition with friends and demonstrates collective impact.

CycleUp

A Web app ranks your recycling rates across your neighborhood and even your city.

Pimp your bin

A simple sticker that serves as a just-in-time reminder to help separate recyclables from trash.

R-blocks

Customizable recycling bin concept changes the perception of trash.

Recy'cream trucks

Kids and adults alike can trade in their recycling for all-fruit popsicles, low-fat frozen yogurt treats and fresh juices.

Top image of How do I recycle this? app by Jes Simpson via OpenIDEO. This article first appeared at 2degrees.