Blog: What are the barriers to behaviour change?

Published on 17 December 2020

Photo of woman smiling with orange bag in aisle of grocery store about to pick up item

I wish it was easy for humans to change their behaviour. Wouldn’t it be great if you could simply give someone information about the impact of their behaviour and immediately they see the need to change? You could just tell your sister who continues to throw kilos of food waste into her bin that she is making a significant contribution to climate change and she would completely rethink the way she buys and disposes of food! Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy. Behaviour change theory tells us that in order to change a person’s behaviour, providing them with information is often not enough. Hence my sister still throws out way too much food. 

In order to change behaviour, most of us require not only the information on why we need to change but also the change needs to align with our desires. In most cases, the change also needs to be relatively hassle free. It makes sense that if a change is easy and low cost to make, a lot more people will act on it, in comparison to if it’s difficult and costly. 

Take the example of the garden organics bin – the green lidded bin that is collected fortnightly by Council. This has vastly increased the number of people that compost their greenwaste because, in providing the service for people, Council has made it easy to engage in this behaviour. Similarly, in Europe, 3.8% of new car sales are electric, whereas in Australia only 0.6% of new car sales are electric and/or plug-in hybrids. The reason? The cost difference between electric and diesel/petrol cars in Europe is not so great [1].

But cost and ease are not the only reasons people don’t change their behaviour. Fear, forgetting and not knowing are some of the other reasons.

When it comes to avoiding waste I find familiarity and ease are major issues for me. For instance, I always buy toothpaste in a tube at the supermarket and I just keep doing that because I haven’t found the time yet to research other less wasteful alternatives. This seems to be the time consuming part. So yes, time is another factor. I have found, however, that once I find a no-waste alternative, in general, I don’t tend to revert back to the old way of doing things. I usually find the no waste or less waste alternatives make me feel good and they have other benefits such as less chemicals or less processing.

So when it comes to avoiding waste, what are your barriers? What makes it hard for you? What would make it easier for you to avoid waste?



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What are your barriers to behaviour change and what would make it easier for you? Join the conversation here.