Tag Archives: semiotics

I love recycling. Not yet, but maybe one day.

Went to meeting last week about how to get more people at work to recycle.  So, despite there being bins all over the place for paper, plastic, CD’s, batteries etc, we only recycle about two-thirds of the amount we could.  So, what to do?

There were lots of good ideas about how we could improve the situation – emails, posters, more bins, taglines and a crazy one about a sculpture but the thing that the discussion raised for me was how boring recycling is.

When you buy something you buy it for what’s inside the pack.  So, at work it’s likely to be sandwich, a drink or something from amazon.  It’s the food, the coffee or the book which is the thing you want – it’s like a present that you unwrap and enjoy.  The packaging is just the wrapping and has no value.  You discard it; you throw it away.  This is the direct opposite from what’s inside which you keep.  Even the physicality is interesting in that you hold or consume what’s inside and you throw the packaging away from you.  It’s a negative act.

I once heard a man talk about something similar – about getting people to stop chewing gum.  He was saying that the act of chewing gum is an act of rebellion (semiotically, I think).  It’s to do with movies and teenagers and a lot more probably knowing semiotics.  Anyway, his point was that in order to encourage people to stop chewing gum, you’re not going to have a lot of luck if you tell them to stop chewing gum.   This is because if the act of chewing is an act of rebellion, you’re hardly going to start conforming if someone tells you to stop.

Anyway, back to the point and if recycling is a negative act, the question for me is how do you turn it into a positive act?  How can you take it from being dull, boring and a chore for do-gooders into a fun, exciting thing to enjoy?  Now, maybe this is about getting points and prizes for who can recycle the most, or making the bins interesting and suprising so they play a tune or cheer or give you sweets or tell you a joke when you put something in them.  They’ll be hundreds of ideas to play with but I think the task is to make it the act of recycling the wrapping part of the experience of enjoying the total product – i.e. you enjoy the can of Coke AND you enjoy throwing it in the recycling, rather than one being ‘positive’ and the other being ‘negative’.

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