“If it is not made easy for me, I will just not bother”. A qualitative exploration of the barriers and facilitators to recycling plastics

Deborah Roy, Emma Berry, Martin Dempster

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
53 Downloads (Pure)


Despite significant investment to increase recycling facilities and kerbside collection of waste materials, plastic packaging is frequently discarded as litter, resulting in significant environmental harm. This research uses qualitative methods to explore the contextual and psychological factors that influence plastic waste disposal behaviour from the perspectives of consumers. This research also reports key results from a brief online survey exploring consumer perspectives toward plastics and plastic recycling. A total of N = 18 adults living in Northern Ireland (NI) participated in a semi-structured interview and N = 756 adults living in NI took part in an online survey. Interview data was analysed via a semi-directed content analysis approach, using the COM-B behaviour change model as a guiding framework. Survey data underwent descriptive and frequency analysis. Collectively, the findings suggest that environmental concern exists among consumers generally, but there is a degree of ambivalence toward recycling that reflects a gap between intentions to recycle and actual recycling behaviour. Plastic recycling behaviour is hindered by three common barriers: 1. confusion and uncertainty about which plastic materials can be recycled (exacerbated by the abundance of plastic products available) 2. perceiving plastic recycling to be less of a personal priority in daily life 3. perceiving that local government and manufacturers have a responsibility to make plastic recycling easier. As recycling is simply not a priority for many individuals, efforts should instead be placed on providing greater scaffolding to make the process of recycling less tedious, confusing, and more habitual. Visual cues on product packing and recycling resources can address ambiguity about which plastic materials can/cannot be recycled and increasing opportunities to recycle (via consistent availability of recycling bins) can reduce the physical burden of accessing recycling resources. Such interventions, based on environmental restructuring and enablement, may increase motivations to recycle by reducing the cognitive and physical burden of recycling, supporting healthier recycling habits.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0267284
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 3 May 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Roy et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


  • Adult
  • Humans
  • Plastics
  • Product Packaging
  • Recycling
  • Refuse Disposal
  • Waste Management


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