Social Marketing and Sustainability of Recycling Plastics


Social marketing is a procedural approach that utilizes business-marketing strategies with the aim of altering or ensuring good social behavior. It involves activities such as setting realistic and achievable goals, conducting research and development of unique tools that promote sustainability for different audiences. Social marketing is employed in instances where a community seeks to recycle its waste in both large and small scale. Sustainability, conversely, refers to a consolidated approach to social, economic and environmental issues. These issues, when properly addressed, result in a sustainable environment for growth and ensure that the well-being of the community is maintained. Various social behaviors such as environmental pollution need to be changed, and this brings to light the need for social marketing and sustainability. Plastic waste forms a significant percentage of environmental pollutants and is non-biodegradable. Plastic waste is recyclable and can form a vital resource for plastic material. Recycling is undoubtedly a necessary activity in the society today in order to meet the rising global demand for plastic. This paper aims to explain social marketing and sustainability processes that are essential for community recycling programs with major emphasis on the recycling of plastics and provide insight on the same.

Prior Campaigns, Target Audience and Barriers to Behavior Change

Traditional promotional campaigns proved to be ineffective as they were inadequate. They only informed people on the best methods of recycling, where and why they should do so. However, simple awareness of any existing issue in the society is often insufficient in addressing it or changing the community’s behavior. Although a change of attitude is vital for addressing any concern in the society, more is needed to stimulate the required behavioral change. Social marketing addresses this concern in depth and helps discover the motivation behind behavioral change. Social marketing highlights factors such as a community’s perception concerning barriers, modification techniques that increase recycling and ways of evaluating and designing campaigns according to different audiences (Marshall et al. 2006).

The target audience in the recycling of plastics includes every individual who uses products that are packed in plastic containers and bags. This target audience is the majority of the population as most items available for consumption are packed in plastic bags. Plastic bags can be a nuisance and, therefore, the society wishes to address the issue in order to minimize this kind of waste. It is vital that the target audience is intrinsically motivated in order for them to recycle willingly. Inherent motivation will promote consistent recycling from the community. Such a community will find recycling not only rewarding, but also enjoyable and interesting. It is also important to employ the concept of midstream social marketing (Marshall et al. 2006). This will involve influencing family, friends and other community members who are closer to the audience being targeted by the campaign. Upstream social marketing entails influencers such as politicians and media figures who will encourage the rest of the community to participate in the campaign. Social marketing shifts the emphasis from individual behavioral change and assigns it to the upstream factors.

Proposed behavior change in recycling involves the reuse of plastic bags and containers. They can be used for storage or remodeled for use as ornaments. Changes in behavior are an important starting point for communal recycling. A paradigm shift can only occur if there is a concerted effort to promote the reuse of plastic waste. The impact of this behavioral change includes reduced plastic disposal and increased reuse. This reduces the debris in the oceans and various other water bodies that mainly consist of plastic waste carried away by storms. Debris in oceans and water bodies poses a significant risk to aquatic life that needs to be preserved for the well-being of the environment.

Although recycling of plastic waste is made possible through a change in the attitudes of the target audience, skewed outlooks can be a major barrier to behavioral change. Other barriers that exist may be internal or external. Internal barriers vary between individuals and may comprise reduced awareness or a lack of motivation to participate in the campaign. External barriers include the need for structural change necessary for sustainable behavior. Alternatively, inculcating values that promote recycling encourages the members of the community to participate in related campaigns (Reiss 2008). The campaign removes any barriers to behavioral change as it encourages the community to take it upon themselves to reduce the menace of environmental pollution by plastic waste. This begins with individual action that extends to the community and is further evident through recognized national effort. Campaigns utilize public figures, entertainers and politicians to encourage the community to reuse waste. Use of upstream social marketing methods is effective as it encourages individual action in recycling of plastic waste (Kamin 2007).

The plastic waste recycling campaign brings key benefits. Recycling of plastic waste conserves natural resources and energy that would otherwise have been wasted in the extraction and production of materials used to make plastic. Plastic is made from naturally occurring gas. Recycling plastic waste diverts these resources to more useful uses such as electricity and energy production that can be used in other sectors. Recycling plastics also saves land space that goes to waste when it is disposed of inappropriately. Recycling also preserves the environment, as less waste will be burned to produce harmful gases that contribute to global warming.


Behavior Change Model

The most appropriate behavior change model to the campaign is the social norms approach. This approach advances a theory that explains human behavior. The social norms approach states that human behavior is greatly influenced by wrong perceptions of how other members of the society think and act. The theory states that an individual is likely to increase a given behavior if they overestimate its permissiveness in their social groups. Conversely, underestimation results in the decrease of a certain behavior in an individual (Berkowitz 2004). Thus, correcting skewed perceptions of the society’s norms will stimulate an increase in the prevalence of healthy and acceptable behavior. Research proposes that peer influences that are explained by this theory are based on what an individual thinks other members of his or her social group do (Berkowitz 2004).

In the campaign, the perception that recycling is beneficial encourages individuals to participate in it even though few people recycle plastic waste. Individuals participate in recycling campaigns albeit unknowingly because they believe that it is a growing trend in the world today. An overestimation of the society’s participation in recycling campaigns results by individuals engaging themselves in the reuse of plastic waste. However, an underestimation of the society’s permissiveness to recycling behavior may discourage it. Individuals tend to conform to what they view as common practice in the society and, therefore are likely to reuse plastic waste less. It is a common feature of human nature to imitate each other and, therefore active recycling is likely to increase in any given society because of influence (Berkowitz 2004). There will be positive intention to recycle if the community encourages it (Cooper 2007). Normative or social pressure also contributes actively to social behavior. Influences in peer groups compel an individual to conform to the habits of his or her social group. Individuals are likely to recycle if it is a common engagement in the community. Environmental constraints are factors that may inhibit or slow down the recycling process such as legal frameworks that require only specific methods of doing so or technological constraints where the campaign may decelerate due to lack of the appropriate equipment necessary. Perceived capability or self-efficacy refers to people’s beliefs concerning their own abilities to perform any given task. A strong sense of perceived capability in any community taking part in the campaign is likely to enhance its well being and performance in any recycling projects. A weak sense of perceived capability results in a general dismal performance. A positive emotional response by the community is likely to be a cause for their active involvement in the campaign.

Evaluating the Campaign

Various factors are to be considered during the evaluation of the campaign. These include the segment size, problem incidences and severity, general responsiveness, cost of operations and organizational capabilities (Cole, and Fieselman 2013). The size of the community or individuals wishing to participate in the campaign is of key importance, as it will determine the effectiveness of the campaign. A large active community will result in the success of the project. The campaign is also likely to succeed if the there is a proper organizational structure. Strategic planning is vital to ensure that the campaign is well planned and executed.

The 4P’s of social marketing namely product, price, place and promotion can be used to analyze the success of the campaign (Cooper 2007). The products in this case refer to any commodities or services that are needed to stimulate any behavioral change. The cost of operations and recycling are also an important consideration. The costs may be both financial and social costs. High cost of recycling is likely to be a barrier to the campaign, and it is therefore, essential to run the campaign in the most cost effective manner possible. Place refers to the areas where the campaign is set to take place. Localities with large populations are likely to participate in the campaign due to their large numbers (Cole, and Fieselman 2013). In promotion, the campaign organizers should use market research to identify the appropriate communication channels. This will facilitate the flow of information and will enable the campaign to spread awareness concerning recycling. Other promotional aspects would entail an in-depth understanding of the target audience. In this case, advertisements or the use of promotional items such as posters would be necessary to encourage people to recycle.


The campaign team should develop a zero waste approach that is a cost efficient strategy. The community is required to change the way it disposes off its waste. The main objective of the zero waste technique is to maximize recycling of products thereby avoiding environmental degradation by using it to make other products that are useful to the community. The campaign team and the community should develop a strategic plan that will act as a map for the proper methodology for recycling waste. It should encompass an elaborate characterization study and point out all the existing opportunities available for recycling.

The campaign team should use upstream social marketing and seek technical support from the appropriate authorities. The support may also be in the form of policies and legal frameworks that prohibit unnecessary wastage and dumping. The community with the help of the campaign team should also develop processors that ease the recycling of plastic waste. Although the campaign is mainly concerned with spreading awareness, it should develop programs that educate and enlighten the members of the public on the proper and safe methods of recycling. This is a potential source of employment as some members of the community can take it upon themselves to start up recycling plants. The campaign team should also champion and endorse regulations that encourage the use of reusable bags in the place of plastic bags.

Bins should also be placed at many strategic locations where the transport vehicles can access them and collect the waste for the recycling plants. This will reduce landfills that pose a significant danger to both human and animal life. Burning of plastic waste should be discouraged through appropriate legislations. Recycling and waste reduction programs should be established in local schools and tertiary institutions, as this will encourage behavior change in young populations. The campaign should create partnerships with sponsors to fund school programs and provide resources needed for recycling. The campaign should also encourage the use of web based tools that encourage recycling such as social media platforms. It should also create special tools that allow residents in different locations to access information from diverse sites concerning recycling. The community and the campaign should also collaborate and organize a regular used goods market and garage sale where people can exchange reusable commodities. These measures will result in successful future campaigns addressing the issue.











Berkowitz, A, 2004, ‘The Social Norms Approach: Theory, Research and Annotated Bibliography’, 1-47.

Cole, E & Fieselman, L, 2013, ‘A Community-Based Social Marketing Campaign at Pacific University Oregon: Recycling, Paper Reduction and Environmentally Preferable Purchasing’, International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 14, 176-195.

Cooper, C, 2007, ‘Successfully Changing Individual Travel Behavior: Applying Community-Based Social Marketing to Travel Choice’, Transportation Research Record, 89-99.

Kamin, T, 2011, ‘Social Marketing of a Different Pace: Between Liberal and Paternalistic Management of Social Change’, Teorija in Praksa.

Marshall, R, Bryant, C, Keller, H & Fridinger, F, 2006, ‘Marketing Social Marketing: Getting Inside Those “Big Dogs’ Heads” and Other Challenges’, Health Promotion Practice, vol. 7, 206-212.

Reiss, A, 2008, ‘Barriers to Behavior Change and the Application of Social Marketing Tools’, 1-43.



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