Research into attitudes to waste and recycling

At the Ministry we regularly commission and co-fund research to understand waste reduction and recycling behaviours. This research informs our waste management policies and initiatives. We update this data annually.

Attitudes to recycling, waste reduction and use of plastic, 2023 research

Behavioural trend monitoring survey

In 2023 we funded research to understand and track changes in people's attitudes, awareness and behaviours around waste minimisation.

This research has been commissioned for the next three years. Each year, the research will focus on measuring and comparing data from relevant policy areas within our work programme. 

This year, the focus has been on:

  • recycling and reducing behaviours
  • food waste
  • plastics
  • communications around reducing waste. 

What we found

  • People are doing a good job at recycling, mostly they are putting the right items into the recycling bins.
  • Most frequent recycling and reusing behaviours are 'using reusable bags when shopping', (81%) 'recycling waste at home' (72%), ‘carrying a reusable water bottle’ (58%).
  • The majority of people (72%) say that they actively try to reduce waste.
  • Food waste is an important issue for New Zealanders, with 88% agreeing that wasting food feels wrong.
  • Key reasons for wasting food were not eating leftovers and having food in the fridge/freezer 'going off'.
  • Saving money (89%), managing home efficiently (82%) and valuing the effort to produce food (80%) were the strongest motivators to reduce food waste.
  • Most (82%) agreed that reducing plastic waste was an important issue. 

Behavioural trend monitoring survey

We compared results

To track changes in practices from policy implementation and gain a deeper understanding of behaviours analysed, we compared the 2023 Behavioural Trend Monitoring Survey results with previous research. 

This included research by:

The main findings in this comparative report are:

  • People are finding recycling easier (71%) and less confusing (37%) than in the past
  • However people are less confident about what happens to their recycling than in previous surveys
  • In general, recycling and reducing behaviours seem to have improved in the last few years
  • More people are dropping off e-waste at a separate location for recycling (46%)
  • The biggest barrier to reducing plastic waste is finding alternatives (40%)
  • Leftovers not being eaten is a more prominent reason for wasting food than in previous years (37%). 

Public webinar presenting these results [PDF 2.2 MB]

Attitudes to recycling, waste reduction and use of plastic, 2018 research

In 2018, we commissioned research that examined New Zealanders' attitudes to recycling, waste reduction and use of plastic.  

We found that: 

  • 50% of New Zealanders are very or extremely worried about the impacts of waste 
  • 62% are highly committed to recycling 
  • 55% are highly committed to reducing the amount of waste they generate.  

Read the Environmental attitudes baseline report [PDF, 6.9 MB]

Household kerbside recycling behaviours

In 2020, we co-funded research with WasteMINZ into household kerbside recycling behaviours.

We found that:

  • 92% of New Zealanders felt fairly confident they placed the correct items in the recycling bin 
  • 85% agreed it is worth taking the time to recycle correctly 
  • 65% found recycling easy 
  • when tested, on average respondents were only able to correctly identify whether 20 out of 30 items were recyclable or not.  

The research also investigated: 

  • people’s commitment to recycling right  
  • their knowledge and understanding of recycling symbols 
  • how they prepare items for recycling 
  • perceptions of compostable packaging 
  • responsiveness to recycling messages. 

Read the full Rethinking rubbish and recycling research report [PDF 1.4 MB] 

Motivations for recycling

In 2021, we co-funded further research with WasteMINZ into how to motivate people to recycle.

The research looked at:

  • what motivated people to recycle more
  • what types of messaging was more effective at influencing people’s behaviour.   

We found that:

  • we need to make it easier for people to recycle 
  • we need to make it more satisfying for people to recycle 
  • positive messaging and humor is more effective.

Read the full research into recycling motivations [PDF, 7.3 MB]

Home composting and home compostable packaging behaviours and beliefs

In 2021, we funded research into home composting and home compostable packaging to find out how households were disposing of these products.

What we found

  • 55% of respondents said they currently compost at home — a drop of 8% from the last national survey in 2008.
  • Only 1% compost all materials that have been traditionally composted (eg, food scraps, garden waste).
  • 82% agreed or strongly agreed that compostable packaging is better for the environment than plastic packaging. However, many held incorrect beliefs about compostable packaging — 49% said compostable packaging could be recycled when it cannot.

Read the full research

Littering behaviours and motivations

In 2018, we co-funded with Keep New Zealand Beautiful a National Litter Behaviour Study.

The purpose was to:

  • provide baseline data on littering behaviour
  • better understand attitudes towards litter in New Zealand.  

Litter in public places is likely to occur in a range of situations and ways  

  • Litter disposed of from cars.
  • Blowing out of bins. 
  • Disposed of beside full bins.
  • Litter potentially caused by waste and recycling collection processes.  
  • Some people only litter in the evening (potentially once alcohol and/or a group mentality is involved).  

What we observed

  • We observed people littering during the day in public places with litter bins present.  
  • 16% of people littered, while 84% of people disposed of items correctly. 
  • The items most likely to be littered were cigarette butts with 96% of the 1,705 disposal acts observed during the research littering of cigarette butts.  
  • Of the people who were observed littering and were subsequently interviewed, 53% admitted to having littered.
  • 44% of those surveyed littered within just five metres of their nearest bin.
  • 42% per cent of the people who had been observed littering claimed to have never littered – all of these people had littered cigarette butts. 

Online survey findings

In an online survey:

  • 93% of New Zealanders agreed that it was very or extremely important that people did not litter. 
  • 13% admitted to having littered within the past week. 
  • when asked why they had littered, they said that they had littered either because there were no bins (27%) or because they are lazy, don’t care, or were too busy (27%). 

Read the report: Litter behaviour study [Keep New Zealand Beautiful website]

Illegal dumping

In 2022, we funded Keep New Zealand Beautiful to develop a behaviour change programme to reduce illegal dumping. 

The first piece of research was a literature review into international strategies for tackling illegal dumping which concluded with 5 recommendations. 

Read the literature review [PDF, 718 KB] Keep New Zealand Beautiful website

Attitudes and perceptions of why people waste food

In 2014, WasteMINZ funded the National Food Waste Prevention Study to obtain greater insight into the attitudes and perceptions of why people waste food.  

What the study found

  • 89% of New Zealanders agreed wasting food feels wrong. 
  • 88% value the food they buy and don’t want to throw it away. 
  • 82% consider food waste reduction to be an important issue.
  • 27% of households were found to be high food wasters.  

High food wasters

High food wasters were more likely to be: 

  • younger people - aged 16 to 24 years  
  • large households those with 5 or more people living in them  
  • households with children 15 years and under  
  • households with a high annual income ($100,000 per annum or more). 

Read the full report (PDF, 1.9 MB) [Love Food Hate Waste website]

Behavioural insights into food waste reduction initiatives

This literature review identifies the behavioural insights from successful household and business food waste reduction initiatives that have been trialled and evaluated internationally.

The review focuses on behavioural initiatives and interventions rather than traditional levers for change such as technological fixes, process improvements, or economic incentives and disincentives. 

Read the literature review [PDF, 1.5 MB]

Further research into attitudes and behaviours towards food waste

We cofunded with WasteMINZ the Love Food Hate Waste campaign from 2016 to 2018. 

In 2018, an online survey was repeated to measure if there had been any changes in peoples’ attitudes and behaviours towards food waste. 

The 2018 online survey found that: 

  • awareness of food waste as an issue has increased since 2014, but people still don’t think they waste a lot of food 
  • even amongst high food wasters only 8% perceived their food waste as being quite a lot, while more than half perceived their food wastage as ‘a little or very little’  
  • people were increasingly taking action to reduce their food waste, with six or more actions being implemented on average  
  • there had been significant increases in positive behaviours such as making a shopping list and a decrease in negative behaviours such as throwing away uneaten leftovers  
  • the overall number of high food wasters has decreased and the number of low food wasters has increased since 2014 which indicates that overall attitudes and behaviours are moving in the right direction. 

Find out more about the Love Food Hate Waste campaign evaluation (PDF, 1.5 MB) [Love Food Hate Waste website]

Improving participation in kerbside food scraps collections

In 2023 we funded research to understand the barriers to participation in kerbside food scraps collections. 

The research explores residents' experiences of food scrap collection service in their area. People across four local council areas took part in the research. The research is divided into two reports.

The first report includes information on participation and sets out rates for food scraps collections.

It includes a survey of those who don’t use the service to understand why not and  finally a bin audit was conducted to understand how much food was being placed in rubbish bins and bags by those who didn’t use the service.

See research into barriers to use of food scraps collections

The second report summarises findings from focus groups of people who didn’t use the food scraps collections.

It covers:

  •  why participants were not using the service
  • participants' understanding and knowledge of food scraps and how to dispose of them
  • motivations for using the food scraps collection service
  • communication channels for sharing information about the food scraps collection service.

See food scraps collection services qualitative research 

Household disposal of garden waste

About the research

Kōtātā Insight conducted a national survey of 1,162 respondents in March 2022 for the Ministry for the Environment. As part of the survey participants were asked about how they dispose of garden waste.   

Key findings 

  • 24% of respondents have no garden 
  • Of those who garden 25% have materials such as bamboo and flax which can’t be accepted in commercial composting facilities 
  • 19% of respondents use their rubbish bin to dispose of garden waste, but it is the main means for only 12% of respondents 
  • 19% of those who use a rubbish bin say it is because they have very little garden waste and 9% because they have material which they believe is unsuitable for home composting (eg, weeds or infected fruit).  

Households with gardens

Do you have a garden? 
  Frequency  %
Yes, I have a garden  886  76.2 % 
I only have a balcony with pot plants  79  6.8 % 
No, I don’t have a garden  197  17.0 % 

* Proportion of full sample (n = 1162) 

Types of plants grown

If you have a garden, which of these types of plants grow in your garden? 

Please tick all that apply 






79.2 % 



63.0 % 



58.2 % 

Evergreen trees – these leaves stay on the tree all year round 




57.5 % 

Hedge or shrubs which require pruning 


53.9 % 

Deciduous trees – these leaves fall off the tree in the winter 


52.0 % 

Potted colours – flowers which only flower for a short period of time 


49.8 % 

Bamboo, flax, cabbage trees 


25.0 % 

* Proportion of those who have either a garden or a balcony with pot plants (n = 965) 

Note: bamboo, flax and cabbage trees are typically too fibrous to be accepted in garden waste collections. 

Disposal options for garden waste

If you have a garden, how do you dispose of your garden waste? 

Please tick all that apply 






51.8 % 

Place in a green waste bin provided by council 


26.4 % 

Place in a rubbish bin 


19.2 % 

Place in a green waste bin or bag hired from a private company 




19.0 % 

Leave in a pile in the garden 


22.5 % 

Take to a transfer station 


12.1 % 



4.6 % 

* Proportion of those who have either a garden or a balcony with pot plants (n = 965) 

Main disposal method

If you have a garden, which is your main way of dealing with your garden waste? 

Please tick the main one. 






33.1 % 

Place in a green waste bin provided by council 


17.1 % 

Place in a green waste bin or bag hired from a private company 




16.4 % 

Leave in a pile in the garden 


12.3 % 

Place in a rubbish bin 


12.0 % 

Take to a transfer station 


5.9 % 



3.5 % 

* Proportion of those who have either a garden or a balcony with pot plants (n = 965) 

Reason for using rubbish bin as a disposal method

If you place your garden waste in your rubbish bin, why do you do so? 




I have very little garden waste 


19.3 % 

It’s too expensive to hire a green waste bin 


8.3 % 

I don’t have room to compost 


7.5 % 

You are not supposed to compost this type of waste e.g., infected fruit, weeds 




9.0 % 



2.9 % 

I don't place garden waste in a rubbish bin 


63.2 % 

Biases in the sample

While typically a survey would be nationally representative there are some small biases to this sample. 

  • Women are somewhat overrepresented. 
  • In terms of age, the survey sample approximates the age distribution in the overall population well. However, there is an underrepresentation of people between 18 and 24 years of age.
  • Despite strong efforts by the market research company to boost Māori survey responses, working with three additional partners to increase their reach, the final sample includes relatively lower counts for people of Māori as well as people of Pacific ethnicity.
  • In terms of household income, the samples include relatively higher counts of those in the lower-income groups and lower counts of people in the higher-income groups.  

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