Can Social Causes Motivate us to Recycle More?

Posted March 13, 2017

This article was written by Spyro Kalos Manager Recycling at MobileMuster and originally published in Inside Waste on 1 March 2017. It is republished here with permission by Mayfam Media.

What we know today is every person in Australia generates 23 kilograms of e-waste per year, along with this there are over 25 million old mobiles stored in our homes and in the workplace. That sure does sound like a lot of e-waste cluttering up our homes. You would think that recycling would be a priority for most of us. Not only does recycling help recover much needed precious resources that can be reused, but it also helps us declutter – that in itself will make us feel good.

So then why aren’t more Australians recycling, why are we holding onto old, broken and unwanted gadgets? In fact regardless of the type of electronics you have stored in your home, over 95% of the material can be recovered through recycling. Many of us know recycling is a good thing, good for our mental health along with great for the environment, research conducted by MobileMuster shows that 80% or more of Australians know that they can recycle their mobiles. 

Can partnering with social causes and charities help to incentivise people and give them another reason why they should declutter and recycle? I can tell you that recycling is a good thing, but maybe I am preaching to the converted. To grow our recycling effort MobileMuster has to find ways to encourage recyclers and non-recyclers. MobileMuster has been using charity partnerships for almost 10 years. The role the partnerships play is twofold, they help drive awareness of mobile phone recycling and MobileMuster, along with the charity, but they also help increase the recycling of mobile phones and accessories.

There are factors that stop some of us from recycling old electronics, the main barrier is that people like to keep their old mobiles just in case they need it. Whilst not many of us go back to using old technology once we have upgraded 43% of us use this justification for keeping our old mobiles.[1] A number of people 27% haven’t got around to recycle and 12% are not sure how to recycle. There are also those that are concerned about data security with 12% identifying that as a reason for not recycling their old mobile. 

Our research tells us that 77% of the population are more motivated to recycle if they are offered an incentive.[2] Furthermore knowing their action can help someone in their local community.  Focus group research conducted by MobileMuster demonstrates that using charities is a positive way of encouraging first time recyclers or non-recyclers into action.[3] The charity incentive resonated due to the benefit it delivers to the local community.

In January this year, MobileMuster partnered with OzHarvest to tackle two of the biggest waste issues facing us today, e-waste and food waste. The facts about food waste are just as staggering as e-waste. We know that Australians waste almost $10 billion dollars of food waste each year, that’s almost 4 billion tonnes of food waste going to landfill.[4]

MobileMuster formed the partnership with OzHarvest as a way of supporting their work. There were a number of synergies between the MobileMuster program and OzHarvest. OzHarvest educates the community on the loss of value from food waste and MobileMuster tackles the loss of value of holding onto old mobiles instead of recycling. The campaign was easy to communicate to the community, with the simple action of recycling a mobile phone with MobileMuster, allowed us to donate the value of a meal to OzHarvest. 

The “Mobile for a Meal” campaign finished up at the end of February, so as I write this the final results aren’t in yet. What we know is that the interest from media was staggering, over 180 mentions of the across print, online and radio. As for collections, in January alone we saw a lift of 15% month on month. 

Over the last 10 years that MobileMuster has been working with charity partners the program has given almost $1,000,000 to important causes. Partnerships have included Landcare, Oxfam, Salvation Army and Able Australia. These campaigns have worked in motivating mobile phone users to think about how they dispose of their old mobiles.  Maybe the act of recycling is just not cool anymore.

The social cause campaigns aim to not only motivate the traditional recycler but encourage the non-recyclers who need a financial incentive or reward for their recycling effort. The non-recycler needs more motivation than their concerns for the environment. A tangible benefit to charity can further nudge our community from positive attitude to desired behaviour. 

Our traditional social cause campaigns deliver a simple mechanism of recycle a mobile phone and help someone in need, action equals outcome. Our partnership with Able Australia worked slightly differently. Able Australia is a leading not for profit organisation, delivering high quality, people centred services to people living with deaf blindness within our community. We asked Australians to send in their unwanted working mobile phones so they could help a deafblind person to stay connected to their community.  Mobile phones already have in built technology that helps deafblind users send and read messages, including picture messages. The partnership focused on reuse, and MobileMuster played the role of recycling partner. Old mobiles that were suitable to be reused with the braille technology, were data wiped and passed onto a deaf blind person. Texting and taking pictures is something many of us don’t think about or simply take for granted. However, to a deaf blind person the simple act of texting is a way of staying connected to family and friends.

The campaign was supported by social media advertising and traditional PR. The story was picked up by all major print media and radio across the country. However, when it came to reusable devices MobileMuster collected 50 devices from around the country and less than half of these could be reused by Able Australia. The key difference here between old mobiles for recycling versus reuse, is that the reuse mobiles still work and are relatively new. We know that consumers prefer to hold onto their devices just in case they need them in the future. The campaign received good engagement and a high number of likes on social media. In particular it resonated with younger adult males who saw benefit in how the mobile technology could be used to transform the communication of a deafblind person. Whilst the community welcomed the idea of helping a deaf blind person, they found it a little hard to give up these old mobiles. It seems that we hope others will give up their old mobile before we need too.

Social partnerships do drive awareness of recycling and the charity partner, plus just as importantly increase recycling volumes. With so many old mobiles still in storage, MobileMuster will continue to use these partnerships. Recycling may not be cool, but it certainly can make a difference to the environment and charity partners. If we only recycled the 4 million broken handsets in storage we would avoid the need to mine almost 18,000 tonnes of precious metal ore.

[1] IPSOS Research (February 2016)

[2] IPSOS Research (February 2015).

[3] IPSOS Research (July 2014)