On the design of sustainable cities: recycling, social norms and economic policies

Last changed: 27 October 2021

Many Global North cities have decades of recycling experience, and most of them have realized that there are a lot of social and economic benefits if they treat waste as a resource. Waste management can save vital resources and create conditions for environmentally and economically sustainable cities and communities. It can also enhance resource efficiency and strengthen the efforts that enable climate-friendly environments. In addition to economic and environmental benefits, EU countries have to comply with the EU target for recycling 65% of municipal waste by 2030. This target is included in the new Circular Economy Action Plan that is one of the main blocks of the European Green Deal - EU’s new agenda for sustainable growth. It is also included in the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) related to “Sustainable cities and communities”, according to which, by 2030, there should be a reduction in the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, by paying special attention to municipal and other waste management.

The overarching objective of this project is to investigate the Swedish waste management strategy and provide policy recommendations of how Sweden can achieve the objective of establishing a zero-waste society and creating resource-efficient cities and communities. Sweden is currently considered to be a successful example when it comes to the management of municipal waste with an average recycling rate of 48%. However, the ambitious targets set by the EU and the SDGs require more action. Furthermore, the insights gained by studying the successful Swedish case can help us learn from it and advise other countries accordingly. Finally, the behavioural insights from recycling might extend to other environmentally friendly choices, such as energy saving, transport modes, or sustainable food consumption.

The project is multidisciplinary, combining environmental policy, behavioural economics and environmental psychology. We employ a wide range of participatory quantitative and qualitative methods such as stakeholder workshops, social network modelling, econometrics, and field experiments, which are co-designed with the local municipally-owned housing company Uppsalahem. Specific objectives of the project are to:

  • Investigate the effect of social norms and proximity to recycling facilities on recycling rates of municipal waste;
  • Investigate how the introduction of the weight-based tariff, which was introduced in nine Swedish municipalities between 2007-2017, has affected the behaviour of individuals with respect to other recycling options;
  • Test the effectiveness of an information intervention in the city of Uppsala (in collaboration with Uppsalahem) in the recycling rates of municipal waste in urban environments.


Project period:  September 2021 – August 2015

Project team:

Efthymia Kyriakopoulou (Project Leader)

Jens Rommel (SLU)

Therese Lindahl (Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics)

Yves Zenou (Monash University)

One postdoc researcher (to be hired)

Project funder:  FORMAS

Total funds: 7.8 million SEK

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