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EMAC 2023 Annual

Who cares? The role of communication strategy and individual characteristics in the public acceptability of a waste management reform

Published: May 24, 2023


Lesman Ghazaryan, Grenoble Ecole de Management; Corinne Faure, Grenoble Ecole de Management; Joachim Schleich, Grenoble Ecole de Management; Mia Birau, EM Lyon business school


This research investigates the acceptability of a new waste management policy aimed at reducing waste creation. Specifically, the new waste management policy implies a transition from a fixed tariff system – where the tariff is fixed and depends on the rental value of the dwelling; to an incentivized system – where the tariff will be variable and will depend on the number of waste collections. Based on the experimental data collected from 620 local residents in France, the study examines the acceptability of this transition conditional on residents’ initial level of waste creation and the communication strategy. In particular, we examine the altering effect of environmental and justice messages on the acceptability of the new tariff. The paper also investigates the moderating role of environmental identity and loss aversion. Municipal solid waste (MSW) management is one of the central aspects of municipal governance. Inappropriate MSW disposal and management can cause environmental hazards such as air, soil, and water pollution. Municipal solid waste, which is one of the most significant by-products of the urban environment, is increasing even more quickly than the pace of urbanization (World Bank, 2012). Because of this, the total environmental impact of MSW is rising at an alarming rate. MSW is the number one source of tossed-away products, especially in developing countries. With its explosive growth, waste MSW poses a big problem to the health and well-being of every person on earth and drives the local and central government agencies to design policies that can help reduce waste creation levels. Politicians often demur implementing environmental policies that can cause public disapproval (Loukopoulos et al., 2005; Banister, 2008). Therefore, policymakers heavily rely on public opinion while deciding whether or not to put environmental regulations into effect. This means that increasing the public's support for environmental policies is crucial to their effective implementation (Dietz & Stern, 2008). Consequently, it is important to understand the determinants of acceptability in environmental policies. Acceptability is one of the essential aspects of attitudes, and numerous studies have examined its role in predicting attitudes (Terrade et al., 2009; Posthuma & Dworkin, 2000; Schuitema et al., 2010; Teh et al., 2007; Steg et al., 2005). Existing research shows that the acceptability of a specific policy does not only depend on policy characteristics but also on the individual characteristics of people evaluating those policies (Gärling & Schuitema, 2007; Steg et al., 2005; Schuitema et al., 2010; Loukopoulos et al., 2005; Bamberg & Schmidt, 2003). Beyond acceptability, it is also essential to understand the determinants of different public reactions (Patchen, 2010; Ejelöv & Nilsson, 2020). Hence, it is necessary to explore the factors related to attitudinal and behavioral aspects of environmental policy acceptability. Financial compensation has been a well-established regulation principle that has guided sustainable environmental development in the world since the 19th century. The further evolvement of that principle is the polluter-pays principle which has already received approval from most of the OECD and EU countries. The polluter-pays principle, first adopted in 1972, states that the individual who causes environmental damage is responsible for the expense of that damage (OECD, 1972). Economic-incentive tools provide regulations to adjust people’s behavior through monetary signals rather than explicitly instructing people on pollution management pathways (Hahn & Stavins, 1991). The incentivized tariff system is based on a similar approach by bringing additional costs to those who produce more than average waste. With the implementation of the new tariff system, it is expected to have decreased levels of waste creation. One of the strategies that has increasing popularity in waste management systems is the differentiated fee policy. Besides its environmental benefits, the policy provides greater justice by allocating the waste management costs more proportionally between waste producers depending on the amount of their waste output (Reichenbach, 2008). The “pay-as-you-throw” (PAYT) policy is one of the economic tools to put the polluter-pays principle into practice at the municipal level, where charges are applied based on the amount of waste being sent to external management services (Reichenbach et al., 2004). The policy is also known under the names variable fee charge system, variable rate, unit pricing, and differential rate (OECD, 2006; van Beukering et al., 2009; Dijkgraaf & Gradus, 2005). The practice of the implementation of PAYT approach shows to be effective in waste reduction, material reuse, as well as better recycling habits (Canterbury, 1996; Van Houtven & Morris, 1999; Dijkgraaf & Gradus, 2005; Morlok et al., 2017; Dijkgraaf & Gradus, 2005; van Beukering et al., 2009; Lakhan, 2015). This study provides two specific contributions. First, it stresses the importance of the reference point in the public acceptability of a specific pro-environmental policy change. In addition to previous research on the role of the initial context in policy acceptance, this study elucidates the practicum in the case of waste management tariff change. Second, this study contributes to the existing literature by bringing more understanding about the relative effectiveness of an environmental message compared to a justice message. Previous research has investigated the roles of environmental and justice messages on policy acceptability separately. There is strong evidence that the public supports the policies when the effectiveness of the messages is clearly communicated and explained (Doda et al., 2016; Heres et al., 2017; Beuermann & Santarius, 2006; Beiser-McGrath & Bernauer, 2019). On the other hand, Carattini et al., (2017) find that the information on environmental effectiveness is no longer necessary to reach high levels of public support in the case of the carbon tax. Additionally, it has been suggested that increased individual costs and the negative perception of the policy justice reduce the acceptance of the proposed policy (Carattini et al., 2017) (Bergquist et al., 2020) (Jagers & Hammar, 2009) (Gevrek & Uyduranoglu, 2015) (Dreyer & Walker, 2013). Our study provides comparative analyses of an environmental message as opposed to a justice message in terms of their effectiveness on policy acceptance, positive reactions, concerns, and sidestepping maneuvers. References Bamberg, S., & Schmidt, P. (2003). 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