Pederson, J.S.T. & Manhice, H. (2020) The hidden dynamics of household waste separation: an anthropological analysis of user commitment, barriers, and the gaps between a waste system and its users.Journal of Cleaner Production, 242, 116285. DOI:10.1016/j.jclepro.2019.03.281 (IF2019 7,246; Q1 Green & Sustainable Science & Technology)
The implementation of household waste separation in the European Union (EU) faces challenges, and argued less successful than expected. This article reports on an anthropological case study in five apartment buildings in the Copenhagen area, Denmark, analyzing the relationship between the local municipal waste system and its users. The results reveal that the implementation of increased source separation cannot rely solely on value appeals (as proposed in the EU strategy). The residents performed waste separation with different intensification and the majority of households (93%) has a yet unrealized potential to separate more waste. The residents stretching to separate as-much-as-possible-waste (7%) expressed strong sustainable values, or they had a daily life with sufficient available time (e.g., retired, unemployed, had a part-time job) to engage in waste separation. The critical barriers identified were cultural perceptions of household order, challenges regarding interim storage in the household, (bio)waste was perceived as disgusting, challenges regarding hygiene and potential extra cleaning, mistrust to the system, as well as expressed difficulties to changing to the new segregation habit. The study suggests adjustments in the policy approach to not only target waste separation as a single standing action but as a new routine that needs to be implemented in the existing network of household routines. A policy focus on a combination on "awareness" (shaping values), "user convenience", "the network of household routines", "the perception of household order", and "user trust in the waste system" may represent five keys to unlock the presently unrealized potential in household waste separation. Additionally, the EU statistics illustrate poor improvements on waste reduction and increasing numbers of packaging waste. This may reveal a policy gaps, which may endanger user trust in the system.