The impact of communication and proximity on citizens’ sustainable disposal of e-waste

Diletta Acuti, Linda LeMarie, Giampaolo Viglia

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Purpose: The purpose of this study is to demonstrate how decision-makers can enhance citizens’ sustainable disposal of e-waste through bin proximity and ad hoc communication. Specifically, the authors discuss a two-year research project that took place in Northern Italy, where the authors documented the number of products disposed of sustainably in four towns.

Design/methodology/approach: The project involved five main groups of stakeholders: i) four municipalities, ii) one social purpose organisation employing people with disabilities, (i.e. Andromeda), iii) one provider of bins (i.e. PubliCittà), iv) another social purpose organisation entity (i.e. Fondazione CRT) and v) the University of Portsmouth. After conducting three online pilot tests to confirm expectations of this study regarding how to enhance citizens’ sustainable disposal of e-waste, the authors have implemented the field pilot programme in a small municipality and successively in other three towns. Finally, the authors measured the impact of the programme on the actual recycling rate of citizens in the three target municipalities.

Findings: The authors found that the positioning of drop-off bins in such a way as to reduce the distance from as many households as possible, along with the use of communication that facilitates the understanding of information related to sustainable disposal schemes, can improve the sustainable behaviour of citizens. The sustainable disposal of exhausted batteries after the intervention improved by 135% on average in the three municipalities that adopted the disposal scheme (Saluggia, San Benigno Canavese and Santhiá). The disposal rate of toners and electronics increased by 204.0% and 318.75% (San Benigno Canavese) and 138.7% and 85.4% (Santhiá), respectively.

Research limitations/implications: The authors believe it would be cautious to consider potential differences in terms of recycling cultures and facilities before implementing the programme in other countries.

Practical implications: The authors’ contribution shows decision-makers how to effectively design disposal schemes to enhance citizens' sustainable behaviour. The authors demonstrate how the thoughtful and responsible use of marketing levers can affect environmental sustainability and impact social development.

Social implications: This paper has an actual impact on society by changing citizens’ behaviour, reducing harm to the environment and human well-being and supporting the inclusion of disadvantaged people in sustainability-oriented programmes.

Originality/value: The structured and equitable engagement of scholars with multiple stakeholders can lead to the co-creation of societal value and knowledge and improve the well-being of multiple stakeholders. The collaboration between academics and practitioners enables the definition of effective strategies by observing the actual behaviour of individuals (i.e. citizens) and offers a direct and measurable impact on society. The involvement of social purpose organisations reinforces the shared primary aim of achieving measurable social and environmental impact.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Marketing
Early online date9 Oct 2023
Publication statusEarly online - 9 Oct 2023


  • sustainable disposal
  • social purpose organisation
  • e-waste
  • impact
  • citizen behaviour
  • social change

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