For more findings from our research project, check out our Re-thinking Ethical Consumerism: Report two: Householder Perspectives from Photo Elicitation and Diary Study
The purpose of this research was to gain an insight into the complexities in the household and their interaction with the social word in relation to single-use plastic consumption. We focus on understanding lived experiences, processes, interactions, belief systems and everyday decision-making.
The research was conducted from June – August 2020 with 27 household decision makers participating in a seven-day diary study. This was followed by semi-structured interviews.
The study found considerable variation in household dynamics and practices. A key observation was that households comprise multiple individuals, each of whom is informed by their knowledge and experience in making decisions. It is important to acknowledge that household decision making likely does not always reside with the same, one individual. Therefore when looking at household decision making about lifestyle and use of resources in the home the interaction between collective and individual decision making taking place within the household needs to be acknowledged.
Householders are influenced significantly by the services and interactions which they have with outside stakeholders (e.g., retailers from whom they purchase goods, councils and community groups who support waste management and disposal of goods). An interesting observation from our study was that households view their interactions with external stakeholders as a more holistic process than those ‘looking in’ do. Therefore, because other stakeholders are focused on their own uni-dimensional view, the role of the householder (intentional or not) is that it is their responsibility to view the reduction of single-use plastic as a more holistic, more coordinated act. In order to target interventions to householders in a way that could have real impact, stakeholders need to reimagine/recast the householder as ‘a coordinator’.
Regardless of whether households took an ideological stance on ethical consumption as a collective, the practice of ethical consumerism, as it relates to single-use plastic reduction, comprises many small choices made when individuals interact with single-use plastics. This has several implications: (i) Ethical consumerism solutions are side-lined as a priority for investment because they have little financial impact on households; (ii) household members are unlikely to risk conflict situations when household members disagree and will default to options with the least friction; (iii) householders use cognitive shortcuts to make micro-decisions through quick and automatic behaviour prompts.