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Less littering through behavioral change

How can we create behavioral changes to reduce plastic litter? Antrop led a policy lab collaboration between the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, Vinnova and the Keep Sweden Tidy Foundation to answer that question. Work to obtain insights led to hypotheses, proposals and recommendations for policy instruments and financial incentives.

We worked with:  Service design, Usability tests Policy design

Plastic is a good and practical product, but it causes huge problems for our environment. Around eight million tons of plastic end up in the oceans annually. The government tasked the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency with studying how to reduce plastic litter. The project focused on single-use packaging of products consumed on the go, such as candy, snacks and ice cream, and aimed to determine how to reduce littering of this kind of packaging.

Policy lab for user-focused innovation

One risk when developing new policy instruments is that they are based on theoretical analyses and may not be effective when they are actually put into practice. To avoid this outcome, we worked with policy lab methods, an approach to developing regulations that stimulate user-focused innovation and positive societal development. The purpose was to find ideas and solutions based on users’ actual needs. Several different experts were connected to the project team to achieve cross-functional collaboration.


“This work method was incredibly rewarding. I’m fairly certain that we wouldn’t have come to these results if we had worked as usual. We would not have achieved the same depth, nor would we have been able to talk to so many relevant people.”

Sebastian Dahlgren Axelsson, innovation strategist, Swedish Environmental Protection Agency

A deeper understanding of behavior

For this assignment, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency wanted to explore the connections between products, consumers, resellers, waste management and packaging. Studying how to change littering behavior was an important component. The following outcome goals were developed for the project:
Reduce the negative effects on marine environments caused by plastic litter.
Give the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency a deeper understanding of the motivations, attitudes and behaviors of consumers/manufacturers/resellers/municipalities and how they influence littering.

Iterative insight work

The project team began by making observations on people who littered and by conducting several rounds of interviews. During the analysis phase, we developed a deeper understanding of behavior and needs, and identified situations and places with a higher risk of littering. Insights included:

  • People feel there are too few wastebaskets
  • Many people are not aware that they are littering
  • Small pieces of packaging “blow away”
  • A great many judgements emerged: other people litter, not me
  • Many people are unwilling to pick up other people’s litter

Hypotheses and prototypes

Based on the insight work, the team developed hypotheses and prototypes that were tested in a real-life environment.
“Understanding an unconscious behavior requires different approaches. So we developed two hypotheses that we tested with prototypes to learn more about behavior and motivations,” says Maria Klint, service designer at Antrop.
In the kiosk test, customers received a litter discount if they did not take the ice cream wrapper. In the label test, we used stickers to see what effect information on the ice cream wrapper could offer.

Design thinking to develop policy instrument proposals

Financial incentives in packaging design proved to be an interesting realm for further work. Antrop developed two policy instrument proposals that were tested with producers and stakeholders in the Swedish ice cream industry.
“Using design thinking as a method was crucial for coming up with the two policy instrument proposals,” says Maria Klint.
The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency now has the proposals and is developing them as part of their government assignment. A report is scheduled for summer 2019.

Swedish Environmental Protection Agency

The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency is a government agency for environmental issues. The agency works on environmental assignments from the Swedish government in Sweden, the EU and internationally.

Are you faced with similar challenges? Contact me if you are interested in collaboration.

Sara Nero

073-066 20 36