SBRI: Increasing household recycling practice through the novel use of persuasive technologies

Fermanagh and Omagh District Council are looking for Persuasive Technologies that can change household waste recycling behaviour.

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Up to 3 suppliers will be appointed to complete this project phase: individual bids should not exceed £41,666 ex VAT.

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Local councils in Northern Ireland are responsible for the collection of more than a million tonnes of household waste and recycling a year. The total cost of council waste management contracts is more than £80m per year.

A new NI Waste Management Strategy will require 65% of waste to be recycled by 2035 and the Climate Change Act (Northern Ireland) 2022 sets an even more challenging target of “at least 70% of waste recycled by 2030.”

However, in the past two years, household recycling rates have plateaued and remain stubbornly below the levels needed to deliver on future challenging NI, UK and global targets. They vary widely across Northern Ireland and overall levels of waste generated are rising.

Contamination also remains widespread, with 85% of Northern Ireland citizens putting items in the recycling that are not accepted.  A step change in household recycling activity is urgently needed to:

  1. Increase the quantity of recycled household waste; and also,
  2. Improve the quality of recycling by reducing the contamination and incorrect disposal of non-recyclable items.

There are large environmental and economic benefits to be gained from increasing the quantity and quality of recycling and this Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) project is intended to demonstrate the technical feasibility and viability of using persuasive technologies to drive improved recycling behaviour.

  • Any organisation based in the UK & European Union (EU) that can demonstrate a credible and practical route to market can submit an application.

    Universities and other non-commercial organisations may apply: however, they must demonstrate a credible and practical route to market, i.e., the application must include a plan to commercialise the results.

    Contracts will be awarded only to individual organisations. However, applicants may identify components of the work which they wish to subcontract and may also employ specialist consultants or advisers if they believe this will increase the chances of the project being successful. Any work may be subcontracted, but this is the responsibility of the main contractor.

  • The NI context

    Robust data on quarterly household recycling rates is collected by local councils and collated and published by DAERA. Although household recycling rates have improved significantly over the last 25 years, more recently, compounded by Covid-19 and the cost of living crisis, there has been some stagnation affecting sustained positive behavioural change.  Recycling behaviour also shows considerable regional and demographic variations. For example:

    • Recycling rates are lower in city regions; and,
    • Perhaps surprisingly, recycling rates are lower in households with young adults and there is consensus that young people tend to exhibit worse recycling habits than older people.

    Persuasive technologies and recycling

    To achieve the step change needed in recycling rates, more sophisticated behavioural change interventions will be needed.  Persuasive Technologies, designed to change attitudes and behaviours through persuasion and social influence, have the potential to provide such a step change. Solutions may include websites, social media and app interventions, chatbots etc.

    To date, Persuasive Technologies, which are underpinned by AI algorithms, have been mostly used for sales, politics, and public health interventions to achieve tangible results.  At present, evidence from waste and recycling managers across the local government sector in NI, coupled with desk research, has established there are limited examples of solutions where Persuasive Technologies have been applied to real world recycling challenges. This is supported by recent research by WRAP, which identifies that behaviour change interventions are needed to bring about the necessary change in recycling rates. This is a very new area and, thus, there is the opportunity and potential for genuine innovation.

  • Location

    Fermanagh and Omagh District Council (FODC) will provide the testbed for this project.  The Persuasive Technology project(s) are likely to involve a pilot with citizens in the district in order to test how the proposed solutions might work in practice.  The outcome of these pilots will be evaluated and the impacts used to further model improvements in household recycling rates which will be of interest to all eleven local councils.



    It is envisaged that this SBRI project will deliver one or more pilot initiatives in the region, using different types of relevant Persuasive Technologies that can demonstrate change in the behaviour of households in relation to waste recycling.  The outcomes will be twofold:

    1. Increased volume of household recycling by encouraging/persuading a greater number of residents to be more active in this area; and,
    2. Increased quality of household recycling by encouraging/persuading residents to reduce contamination in recycling e.g. through better sorting of waste and by rinsing out empty containers.
  • The SBRI programme provides the public sector with innovative solutions to problems that will drive improvement, and allows suppliers to develop products and services working collaboratively with the public-sector, enabling them to develop new skills, expertise and markets.  SBRI projects usually involve a first proof of concept phase.  Multiple suppliers will work with the public sector challenge owner, and if those proofs of concept are promising, a further development phase will be used to take forward the most promising solutions.  More information can be found here.

  • This SBRI is funded by DAERA, who will be the contracting body in this procurement.  To ensure this project has applicability across Northern Ireland, The Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA), which is the council led representative body for all local authorities in Northern Ireland, will oversee the project lead in conjunction with FODC and the Strategic Investment Board.

    A total of £125,000 ex VAT of funding has been allocated.  It is expected that up to 3 suppliers will be appointed to complete this project phase and individual bids should not exceed £41,666 ex VAT.  The phase must be completed by March 31 2024.

  • All eleven NI local councils have similar priorities in relation to environmental sustainability.

    • Data on household recycling was a population indicator for the previous Programme for Government (PfG) and has been proposed as an indicator in the forthcoming PfG.
    • EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy – includes revised legislative proposals on waste, and indicators and incentives to businesses and consumers to help stimulate Europe’s transition towards a circular economy. It sets an EU target for recycling 65% of municipal waste by 2030 and a target of recycling 75% of packaging waste by 2030.
    • The draft Circular Economy Strategy for NI.
    • Green Growth Strategy – Executive Commitment 5 – promote behavioural change by providing low carbon options, infrastructure, timely information, advice and support to citizens and businesses to enable them to make informed choices on the transition to allow emissions economy.
    • Waste Transformation Strategy – proposed target to recycle 65% of waste by 2030.
    • Climate Change (NI) Act  2022 – legislation for reducing greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the UK’s ambition to achieve net zero by 2050.

    A (virtual) briefing event was held on Wednesday 18th October, 10:00-11:00: slides are available at the link below.


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