• Business Business

Researchers see promising results using food delivery apps to change consumer behavior: '[It] incentivized a large portion of individuals'

Consumers were awarded "green points" for eschewing common takeout add-ons.

Consumers were awarded "green points" for eschewing common takeout add-ons.

Photo Credit: iStock

Researchers in China have found that consumers can be effectively steered in a more environmentally friendly direction with only a slight nudge.

The research, which focused on the consumption of single-use cutlery via food delivery apps, found that the share of no-cutlery orders increased by 648% after "no cutlery" was set as the default option and consumers were awarded "green points" for eschewing plastic forks and knives. 

If this practice was applied to all food delivery services in China, the researchers extrapolated that it would save "more than 21.75 billion sets of single-use cutlery … preventing the generation of 3.26 million metric tons [about 3.59 million tons] of plastic waste and saving 5.44 million trees."

The data was published in the journal Science in a study titled "Reducing single-use cutlery with green nudges: Evidence from China's food-delivery industry."

Single-use plastic is a huge problem for our planet and is only growing. There are an estimated 170 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean, around 21,000 pieces for every human on Earth, The Washington Post reported.

While that amount of waste and pollution may seem insurmountable, the study highlights just how unnecessary and easily preventable so much single-use plastic waste is. 

The majority of people ordering food to their homes (where they presumably already have washable cutlery) do not need to be given plastic utensils. By simply making "no cutlery" the default option, a significant number of people modified their behavior to become more environmentally friendly with essentially no effort whatsoever.

"The green nudges incentivized a large portion of individuals to somewhat change their behaviors rather than encouraging only a small portion to change their behaviors substantially," the study's authors wrote.

It certainly behooves all of us to search out plastic-free alternatives and make a concerted effort to avoid consuming products that harm the planet. However, the study shows that decisions made by companies can also make a sizable difference without placing the entire burden of ethical behavior on their customers.

Join our free newsletter for cool news and actionable info that makes it easy to help yourself while helping the planet.

Cool Divider