Less waste in the sea using practical behavioural knowledge

Reducing marine waste is a very topical issue, certainly with the disaster with the container ship in the Wadden Sea at the start of 2019. There are various sources of waste ending up in the sea. One of those sources is fishing. And that's what this project is about. We want to look for solutions by closely looking at what is happening in practice, together with the parties involved.

Collecting waste in a way that you can process it as well as possible is a broad social challenge; do you collect it, do people have to take it somewhere, do you make items returnable with deposit, do you use rubbish bins, do you provide information or do you impose rules and fines? There are many options for governments and businesses to organize waste collection. Waste is also produced at sea and there it is also a challenge to get the waste where you want it. Fishermen are often at sea for a week or more and must therefore store their waste (household and fishing related waste) before they can land it. Here too, there are different ways to organise the collection of waste. “To come up with a good system to get that waste back on land, it is important to discuss with fishermen. After all, they know better than anyone what work and what doesn’t”, says researcher Katell Hamon of Wageningen Economic Research. “The government has traditionally worked with rules but understanding behaviour often works better (what do people do and why and what happens in practice)..” She brought this idea to the attention of policy makers, fishermen, and port authorities in the Green Deal voor een schone visserij (green deal for a clean fishing industry), and she received an excellent response. Hamon introduced several small ways to change behaviour by gently pushing in the right direction.

One example is making it easier for fishermen to bring the waste onto land and to separate it into the correct waste containers. This already happens at a number of ports. A waste station has been added or someone comes to collect the waste from the pier by car. Collecting the waste at the right time can also help. The idea is that when port is in sight, the fisherman will receive a short message with the question of how much waste they are carrying and whether it needs to be picked up. Hamon also thinks that bringing waste collection up on social media can help too. Fisheries can publicise how much waste they have caught. The fishery creates a positive image for themselves and it encourages others to do the same.

A number of these ideas are already being tested in practice and appear to be successful. Hamon works in the living lab on this research project. She collaborates with Andries Richter, researcher in the chair of Environmental Economics and Natural Resources of Wageningen University, Marloes Kraan (Wageningen Marine Research), and Eva van den Broek (Wageningen Economic Research). “I have learned a lot from the collaboration with my colleagues in the living lab,” says Hamon. “We design and conduct the experiments. Researchers at the university provide support and additional theoretical background. It is partly because of the living lab that I am not only a fishery economist, but also an expert in the field of behavioural change and behavioural economics.”

Living lab is a new research approach where not only theoretical knowledge is used, but where behavioural insights are also gained through testing with a multi-disciplinary approach, in a “real-life” situation, and with “real people”. WUR uses this method for behavioural research on nutrition and climate change, for instance.