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Opt-in to a Non-Circular Economy

Using behavioral economics to drive consumer behavior related to small-format plastic

Photo of Naman Mandhan
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More often than I would like to admit, I have seen myself and those around me walk up to the counter at a fast food restaurant and request that a couple of extra ketchup packets or forks be thrown into my to-go bag.

What if I drop my fork and need an extra one?
What if I don't have enough ketchup on my burger and now my food tastes bland?
What if the spice level of my Taco Bell sauce is too mild or too hot?


These "What If"s are a sign of uncertainty, and as beings who hate to have to think about the unknown, we compensate for this the one way we know how - creating excess to increase our options and effectively eradicate uncertainty. This often leads to unused sauce packets and forks that we don't know what to do with, and often end up as waste.

However, instead of trying to fix this problem of dealing with uncertainty, could we instead provide an experience to consumers that asks them to stop and think about the implications of their actions?

The concept of "opt-in" versus "opt-out" is one that has been widely studied in behavioral economics and marketing. In a blog post on his website, Dan Ariely talks about how countries have been able to increase participation in their organ donation programs by simply changing one line item in forms - asking people to opt OUT of the program instead of opting into it. With a difficult and emotional decision such as this, people find it so hard to make a decision that they choose the default option to conform with the status quo, which is staying with the program. 

What if then, we use this idea to rethink what the consumer experience related to small format plastic packaging looks like? For example, when ordering food at a fast food restaurant, can we ask consumers if they would like to opt out of an initiative that aims to reduce plastic waste, or ask consumers to opt in to receive extra sauce satchets? Can we use this concept to influence consumer behavior as it relates to small-format plastics?

How does this research relate to our Use Cases?

This research relates to Use Case 1: Single-use satchet for liquid consumer changes.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

Our words and even the smallest of actions can sometimes create the biggest impact, and a simple action like checking a box could help change the world one ketchup satchet at a time. Does anyone in the community have any such examples where an opt-in versus opt-out method has been able to influence consumer behavior?

Tell us about yourself

A Design Engineer by profession, I use design thinking methods and innovation tools to design products for the automotive industry, and help train and recruit professionals to do the same. I also help lead the OpenIDEO Detroit Chapter.


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Photo of Christel Tardif

Thanks a lot Naman Mandhan this is really exciting. I haven't heard of any such experiment but I will search for similar example.

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