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New Study Presents Novel Behavioral Barrier-Based Framework for Sustainable Plastic Management

Addressing, identifying, and applying an overall framework for a sustainable solution to plastic use and disposal is a pressing issue. Researchers from Ritsumeikan University have developed a new behavioral barrier-based framework, which can serve as a guide to policymakers, encourage better practices, and improve the environment in a context-specific manner. This frame is not restricted to plastic waste and can be applied to other waste-related problems requiring interventions for desirable behavioral changes.

Image Credit: Ritsumeikan University

​​​​​​​Plastics are quite commonplace in today’s world. Consequently, plastic waste is an environmental menace that is increasing at an exponential rate. The negative impact of plastic waste on the global social-ecological systems is far-reaching and irreversible.

The dispersal of micro- and nano-plastics into the rivers, oceans, and soil environments further aggravates this issue. Retrieving these plastics is currently an impossible task. Directly or indirectly, these microscopic plastic particles harmfully impact the life around them. While plastic production and waste management are required to reduce negative impacts at the local level, measures are needed to fight climate problems at a larger scale. Several technological innovations have been developed to solve this problem. However, recent studies note that implementing non-technological measures, such as changing people’s behavior, is equally important.

Thus, intervention measures are needed to induce individual human behavioral changes to prevent plastic pollution. While numerous good practices and disruptive solutions for plastic waste management exist, these do not guarantee an overall sustainable framework under which effective practice in one area complements another practice in a different context, augmenting the outcome.

To address this issue, researchers from Ritsumeikan University have developed and tested a new framework called the Behavioral Barrier-Based Framework (BBBF). This method, which has been reported in an article made available online on 15 December 2022 and all set to be published in Volume 384 of the Journal of Cleaner Production on 15 January 2023, identifies suitable intervention methods from infinite possibilities in a context-specific manner.

The lead researcher of this study, Professor Takuro Uehara, from the Department of Policy Science, Ritsumeikan University, explained the study in simple terms, “This study proposes a new framework, the BBBF, for enabling policymakers to select effective intervention measures to promote people’s sustainable plastic use and disposal.”

The proposed framework has an easy-to-follow four-step process. Step one involves setting policy targets. Step two identifies desirable behavioral changes to attain the policy targets (e.g., using bioplastic bags). Step three identifies critical barriers to the desirable behavioral changes (e.g., availability of bioplastic bags). Finally, step four involves interventions that will directly impact policies by inducing desirable behavioral changes (e.g., making bioplastic bags available at stores). The foundation of steps three and four is step zero, where a generic list of questions is prepared for the study.

“Among the proliferation of barriers and intervention measures, as well as their combinations, the generic list helps policymakers identify critical barriers and derive corresponding intervention measures, guided by the identified intervention measure types linked to the listed barriers,” Professor Uehara surmises.

The researchers tested the application of BBBF in Kyoto City, where Ritsumeikan University is located, and identified proposed measures and stakeholders who could be influenced to remove barriers to desirable behavioral change toward sustainable plastic use and disposal. Policy targets, desirable behavioral change, barriers to behavioral change, proposed intervention measures, and feasibility have been charted in detail in the article as an outcome of their study. Using a comprehensive list of intervention measures derived from existing intervention measure types, the BBBF guides policymakers in selecting appropriate measures for any specific context.

In the context of Kyoto City, the study revealed 15 types of potential desirable behavioral changes (e.g., providing information and alternatives), 3 types of critical barriers, and 16 corresponding intervention measures to attain the four policy targets. The researchers suggest that BBBF can help sustainably induce desirable behavioral changes to achieve the city’s established policy targets of reduced plastic use and waste and improved plastic-waste sorting. Effective intervention measures can tackle the critical barriers to achieving behavioral change toward sustainable plastic use and disposal.

The researchers consulted policymakers to ensure the usefulness of the framework and reviewed theories and previous cases. Their findings are heartening. “Our study presents BBBF as a single framework to assist policymakers in systematically selecting an intervention measure from large options,” Professor Uehara concludes, with justified elation.

With potential to alter mindsets and behavior to tackle the complex issue of pollution, not limited to plastic waste, this framework could be a valuable tool in the arsenal of all environment-minded people.


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