Gamifying recycling

Brands across categories are looking to find ways to encourage Canadians to dispose of recyclable products properly.


This story appears in the March/April 2020 issue of strategy.

Many brands, from Hellmann’s to Starbucks, pour money into eliminating waste through recyclable packaging commitments. Yet their efforts will be for nothing if, in the end, their wares still end up in the landfill.

In Canada, it’s a growing problem. Many consumers fail to recycle properly, if at all. Ordinary citizens remain confused about what’s recyclable, tossing everything from egg shells to electronics and clothing into blue bins – contaminating otherwise good litter. Each year, according to Deloitte, only 9% of the plastic waste in Canada is recycled. Meanwhile, 2.8 million tonnes – the weight of 24 CN Towers – ends up in a landfill.

In response, companies have stepped up to fill the knowledge gap. French app Yoyo connects recycling coaches and sorters, fostering a sense of community that the company believes can sustain a long-term commitment to recycling, according to Springwise. Yoyo coaches will distribute bags and teach sorters to recycle properly and earn points towards rewards. Similarly, U.S.-based Litterati uses crowdsourced data to encourage users to identify and collect litter they encounter on the street. The app automatically identifies and geotags the litter that users photograph, allowing the app community to set goals and challenges.

Summerhill’s exec chairman Ian Morton believes these apps can raise awareness of eco issues, which is important, but they will likely have a limited impact on consumer behaviour over the long term.

“It’s fanciful to think we can click, swipe or like our way toward a lower carbon economy,” says Morton. “Raising awareness is one thing. Changing consumer behaviour is much harder to do.”

Shifting habits is something Glad, for one, has attempted to do in Canada. The brand’s VP of marketing Matt Kohler works with municipalities on recycling and compost programs to educate Canadians around proper sorting and garbage bag selection.

Beyond raising awareness, Morton believes data acquired through apps could help brands gain insight into consumers who are more willing to take sustainable actions – which could lead to strategies for more sustainable outcomes.