Current Practices by Supermarkets and Bodegas
The three supermarkets operating in Lima approach the topic of recycling and sustainability in different ways (Table 2). Supermarket 1 is the most ambitious with respect to its sustainability goals. For this supermarket, sustainability is part of its cultural identity [s 1]. In 2019, this supermarket operated 108 stores in Lima. Supermarket 2 is also committed to integrate sustainability into its business model [s 2], but it carries out fewer activities compared to supermarket 1, with a performance more similar to supermarket 3. In 2019, supermarket 2 operated 93 stores in Lima. Supermarket 3 is the only supermarket that has not yet implemented recycling stations in its stores. Supermarket 3 operated 77 stores in 2019 in Lima.
Among several sustainable practices that supermarkets are implementing in order to increase consumer recycling behaviour, educational campaigns and recycling stations in their stores are the most common ones. Also, as mentioned before, supermarkets regularly participate in sustainability campaigns with NGOs, municipalities and other companies. Complying with the relevant regulations described in the previous section, improving their packaging processes and managing their waste internally are also shared initiatives among the three supermarkets companies. Regarding the legal framework and packaging, supermarkets 1 and 2 went a step further and increased the proportion of recyclable plastic within their packaging over 30%, beyond what is established by the law (15%) [s 1, s 2]. Their strategic interest is that by doing so, in the long run, they can improve their reputation through the marketing of their initiatives and achievements [s 2]. Supermarket 1 implements additional sustainable practices throughout its supply chain and internally with its employees, making sustainability an important part of its corporate governance. For instance, it is implementing reverse logistics, which means that the same truck that delivers and supplies the stores is in charge of bringing back all the boxes and packaging materials used as well. Moreover, it invests in sustainability training among its employees and collaborators and organizes recycling contests between different stores to increase motivation and ownership for the topic.
Compared to supermarkets, bodegas are so far not active in fostering sustainable behaviour among their customers. A main reason is that bodegas are less regulated and have a lower pressure from society to comply with the law, which, for example, allows them to continue to provide free plastic bags [b 1, s 3]. Yet, we find that different mechanisms that are important to influence recycling behaviour could be provided both by supermarkets and bodegas. Bodegas tend to compete through differentiation [s 1], through personal relationships with their customers and through the marketing support they receive from their providers [b 1]. In the following, we analyse the role of supermarkets and bodegas for sustainable consumer behaviour according to the different categories presented above.
Analysis According to Categories
Direct and easy access to the recycling stations is an important aspect for the convenience among consumers. As shown in Table 1, two of the three supermarkets companies have implemented recycling stations in their stores. The stations are usually placed in the parking lots of the supermarkets for space reasons. Thus, they are mostly targeted at customers that go to the supermarket by car, based on the common assumption that most customers use their car to bring their recyclable materials to the stations [s 2]. Yet, supermarkets risk to miss out on customers that do not come by car and therefore do not see the recycling stations immediately. It may be useful for supermarkets to make the stations more visible also for customers that come by other transport modes to increase convenience for these consumers as well [b 3].
Simplicity presents another important aspect for convenience once consumers are in front of the recycling stations. It is often challenging for customers to find so many different recycling containers at one recycling station [s 1]. Usually, there are separate containers for cans, plastics (PET), hard plastics, glass and paper. Too many containers increase the level of effort for consumers to sort their waste as it involves having a solid knowledge to separate the materials appropriately and place them in the correct containers [s 1]. This complexity can greatly reduce the convenience for people to recycle, especially among less educated consumers.
Regarding the quality and maintenance of recycling facilities, it is important for the convenience among consumers that the recycling stations are clean [s 1]. In higher-income districts, recycling stations are usually better taken care of and supermarkets often offer hands’ washing gel at stations, thereby improving the convenience in terms of cleanliness. They are investing in measures to avoid that recycling stations could be perceived as dirty and to make sure that they stay hygienic. This is also relevant from the supermarket’s perspective. When the containers are filled and people decide to simply place the materials somewhere else, waste ends up on the ground, causing hygienic problems. In the case of supermarket 3, they used to offer recycling stations at some stores yet then decided not to implement them any longer because they struggled to keep them clean. This problem was so severe that it even led to the closure of certain of their stores [s 3]. In lower-income districts, it is still less common for people to recycle in general. Therefore, recycling stations at supermarkets are usually used less frequently, which again leads to insufficient maintenance [s 1]. This reduces the convenience for those people who still want to use the recycling stations in lower-income districts, which points towards a vicious circle that needs to be overcome.
Supermarkets can also play a role in increasing the convenience for people who are already participating in municipal segregation at source programmes. Municipalities’ programmes normally collect the materials once a week, but for some households, this is not enough or not that effective [s 1]. Therefore, the recycling stations at supermarkets present a complementary option for frequent recyclers, thereby increasing the overall amount that is recycled. Moreover, for those people who want to recycle but who live in districts where there is no segregation at source programme offered by the municipality, supermarkets’ recycling stations can be the only alternative they currently may have (Table 3) [b 1].
Bodegas are perceived by most of the interviewees to be closer to the consumer and part of the community. As one company interviewee said: “it is easier to find a bodega than to find a garbage bin in the streets” [b 3]. There are bodegas on every one or two blocks in Lima. This proximity is related to the frequency and the volume of the purchases made. It is common that customers buy almost daily at bodegas, since their purchases are mainly for direct consumption or for small replenishment. Customers usually consume less [b 3] and more frequently at bodegas compared to supermarkets . So far, it is not common that bodegas are involved in any recycling activities. However, the close proximity of bodegas, both regarding their location and their relationship with their customers, could greatly increase the convenience for people to recycle. In contrast to supermarkets, consumers could easily bring their recyclable materials to bodegas by foot and, on a more frequent, perhaps even daily basis, which would further reduce the necessity for people to store their recyclable materials at their homes for a longer period. Thus, bodegas could have an important role in encouraging recycling continuity [b 3]. Moreover, since bodegas are well-known within their neighbourhood, it would become easier for many people to recycle if they could associate recycling stations with bodegas, as consumers would be more familiar with where to go [s 1].
Although recycling may become more accessible and simpler if it was related to bodegas, there is less consensus among our interviewees on whether bodegas would have the necessary infrastructure to supply the required facilities such as recycling stations. The main problem is that bodegas are usually very small and do not have enough space to place different recycling bins within their stores [b 3, s 1]. It seems unlikely that bodegas could serve as a full alternative to municipal recycling programmes or recycling stations at supermarkets where people could bring large amounts of materials at the same time [b 3]. What might be more realistic is that bodegas could become a place to directly return what has been consumed — either within the bodega itself or outside on the street [s 3, b 3]. This would require, however, that the materials were collected from the bodegas by formal recyclers or the municipality on a regular basis. Recycling bins could be placed outside the store on the street, which would further increase the visibility for people who are passing by. The “return what you consume” idea would greatly fit the typical consumption patterns associated with bodegas and could be a great addition to already existing recycling programmes and stations. It could further address households’ potential limitations to recycle in terms of time and space, when the options to stockpile materials at home or to transport them to a distant recycling station are limited or when the collection through a municipal recycling programme is not frequent enough or not existent [b 1]. Moreover, as in the case of supermarkets, especially in low-income districts where there is often no recycling programme offered by the municipality, bodegas could become an entry point to the topic for those people who have not been familiar with it before.
Despite these promising conditions for bodegas to become more involved in recycling activities, efforts to implement recycling stations will probably not come voluntarily from bodegas out of their own initiative [b 1, s 1]. Instead, it seems more likely that brand companies would lead this process [b 1, s 3]. Bodegas are often used and influenced by companies to showcase certain products, and recycling stations could become another aspect of their commercial strategy with bodegas. The supply of recycling facilities in bodegas might therefore be rather volatile and dependent on companies’ preferences, unless companies were required to take part in an EPR system by law in the future. An alternative approach could therefore be for bodegas to become part of municipalities’ recycling programmes in the district where such programmes are offered [b 3].
Supermarkets are important places for communication, education and diffusion of information. This offers great potential for supermarkets to be an important actor to increase knowledge about recycling among consumers. Supermarkets have several communication channels already established with their customers that can be used to provide information about recycling, such as audios within stores, hang advertisements in corridors or social media channels [s 2]. Many supermarkets are including sustainability criteria within their marketing and commercial strategies already when deciding which products and brands they offer [s 2, s 3]. Communication to promote recycling should be phrased as simple as possible using “easy” words and avoiding complicated terminology [s 1]. Supermarkets can also address knowledge about convenience by communicating that recycling is easy and that it does not require a lot of effort [s 1, s 2].
As described in the previous section, supermarkets sometimes partner with other actors for specific recycling campaigns, which is also a way to increase knowledge among consumers. For example, supermarket 1 commented that they regularly work together with several national and international brand companies, NGOs, municipalities and MINAM to make products with recyclable packaging more visible to consumers. The aim of these campaigns is to promote knowledge about recycling but also about sustainability in general. The campaigns often include special activities taking place at the recycling stations of supermarkets to help people understand the different categories of recyclable materials. The hope is that by doing so, the convenience for consumers to use the recycling stations will increase as well.
Moreover, the outreach of supermarkets’ communication strategies can go beyond the recycling facilities within their stores alone. Supermarkets can become a platform that provides combined information about the different recycling options that are available to consumers [s 3]. Therefore, supermarkets are also important partners to municipalities in their efforts to promote recycling behaviour [s 1, s 3]. The communication outreach of municipalities is often very limited [s 2], and in many cases, only few people are aware of the existence of local segregation at source programmes [b 3] or recycling stations in public spaces [s 3]. Through more cooperation with municipalities, supermarkets could amplify information about the existence of these programmes and facilities. At the end, the supermarket customer “is the same neighbour that could participate in the municipal programme” [s 3].
A potential challenge can be that supermarkets often provide a lot of information at the same time, which can lead to confusion among consumers. This applies not only to information overload in terms of recycling and sustainability messages, but also — and more importantly — to unsustainable and commercial messages (promotions, discounts, etc.). This can make it difficult for consumers to focus on the key content of the individual messages that aim to promote recycling behaviour, which can reduce their effectiveness (Table 4).
Bodegas are an important channel of communication to consumers as well. Especially for food and beverage companies, they provide an important platform as bodegas are the main sales and marketing channel of their products: between 50 and 70% of their sales are made through bodegas [b 3, s 1, s 3] . These companies are the main providers of bodegas and usually have a strong interaction with them. As important channels of communication, bodegas are often full of ads of these companies and their products. Due to this strong influence of companies on bodegas, knowledge diffusion about recycling will depend on these companies’ preferences as well.
A challenge is that bodega owners often do not have the required knowledge about recycling themselves. Thus, brand companies would have to play a crucial role in educating consumers about recycling within bodegas [s 3, b 1, b 3]. They could use their marketing influence within bodegas to do so and take advantage of the extensive outreach bodegas have since they are located “everywhere” [b 1, b 3]. Most interviewees perceived that the interaction between bodegas and company suppliers is the relationship through which bodega owners could learn more about recycling themselves, be able to adopt recycling practices and ultimately influence consumers’ recycling behaviour by increasing their knowledge as well.
Moreover, companies often support bodegas in strengthening their administrative and commercial skills [b 3, s 1]. In exchange, they expect bodegas to recommend their products to consumers. This support could be extended to environmental issues. It is perceived that recycling issues should have the same importance in this regard as commercial issues [b 3]. Thus, in exchange for recommending their products, brand companies could offer environmental education to bodega owners and raise their awareness for recycling. However, it seems that the best way to do this will likely be by highlighting the social and health benefits of recycling, above the purely environmental ones [b 3].
Considering the consumption patterns in bodegas with more frequent purchases, information about recycling could be transmitted more regularly as well. In addition, information disseminated within bodegas would have the advantage that it could be transmitted face to face in a more personal way due to the close relationship that customers often have with the owner. Because of this close connection, bodega owners often influence their customers’ buying decisions [s 1, b 3]. Thus, if bodegas decided to engage more in the topic in the future, supported by their providers, they would have great potential to influence their customers’ recycling behaviour.
When customers go to supermarkets, they find themselves in an environment where they can directly observe how other people are behaving, for example, if they are purchasing more products made of recyclable materials or if they are using less plastic bags. In the same way, supermarkets’ recycling stations can become a place for social norms to develop as customers can observe how other recyclers sort their waste, which can not only improve their own knowledge but also change their perception about the importance of recycling. Such observations can increase the perceived social norm about recycling and about the importance of the topic. Thus, supermarkets can become important places where social norms towards recycling can be transmitted, both regarding descriptive and injunctive norms, and where personal moral norms can be developed. Yet, social influence in supermarkets can also go in the other direction, if many people do not behave sustainably and the observation of others suggests an unsustainable norm. Mandatory regulations can support the positive effects by being an important driver for supermarkets to adopt sustainable practices [s 3]. For instance, supermarkets have to comply with regulations that tax plastic bags, increase the recyclable plastic content in packaging and mandate the provision of reusable bags. As mentioned before, supermarkets not only comply with these regulations but in some cases also go further [s 1, s 2]. This compliance with the legal requirements can facilitate consumers to internalize sustainable consumption patterns.
Regarding the inclusion of normative elements in supermarkets’ communication strategies, appeals on social norms are not common (none of our supermarkets’ interviewees reported to do so), which might in part be due to the still rather low recycling rate, i.e. the fact that there is no descriptive norm in recycling (yet). However, there is evidence that the injunctive norm, i.e. the social approval for recycling, is already very high in Lima,Footnote 2 which might be useful for supermarkets’ communication strategies. Moreover, appeals on dynamic norms in recycling, i.e. the fact that recycling behaviour is growing in Lima, might be a promising element to motivate customers to recycle [70, 71]. Supermarket 3 reported to include elements aimed at addressing personal moral norms in its communication by appealing on the importance of recycling [s 3]. This leaves room for potentially more effective communication strategies based on social influence in the future.
It is important to note that attitudes towards recycling are different between consumers. For example, in high-income districts in Lima, people often recycle because of its positive social image and reputation [s 1]. Customers believe that “it makes you fit in if you recycle” [s 1], highlighting the importance of the perceived social norm in recycling. Thus, supermarkets could make use of this positive image of recycling and empower customers to do so [m 2]. Many consumers are already environmentally concerned and thus have beliefs and values that are consistent with recycling practices [m 2]. This is one of the reasons why it was better accepted by customers from higher-income districts to start paying for plastic bags when the new law was introduced [s 1]. On the other hand, in low-income districts in Lima, the perception is that recycling should have an economic value [s 1]. Supermarkets’ role in these regions may differ and focus more on strategies that make customers value recyclable materials. This could mean that supermarkets might even need to pay people to recycle or make them aware that they can make money out of it. For instance, supermarket 1 is planning to implement reverse vending machines in lower-income districts to provide some economic incentives for recycling (Table 5).
As mentioned before, one of the most important features of bodegas is that they are perceived as part of the community. Most of the interviewees agreed that customers maintain a loyal and often life-long relationship with the owners, which creates a relationship of trust. For example, it is common that customers are able to pay the bodega owner later if they don’t have the necessary money at the moment of purchase. This personal relationship offers great potential for bodega owners to influence their customers’ personal attitudes and moral norms towards recycling. It is likely that customers would start to adopt recycling practices if it was recommended to them by their trusted bodega owner from around the corner. Moreover, seeing other people recycle within bodegas could have great effects since the reference group would mainly constitute people from the same neighbourhood, with which people could directly identify. Research has shown that group identity and personal communication are key elements for the effectiveness of social norms , which makes bodegas a very suitable environment for social norms in recycling behaviour to develop. In the same way, if bodegas decided to promote recycling behaviour through communication strategies within their stores, including social norm information about the recycling behaviour of other customers within the same bodega may be promising.
A challenge perceived by our interviewees is, however, that bodega owners might be more interested in recycling if they received certain economic benefits from it [b 3, s 1]. As long as this is not the case, it seems less probable that they would encourage any moral obligations towards recycling among their customers. When thinking about how to influence bodega owners to adopt recycling practices, “more income and less effort” [b 3] are expected to be the most important arguments. However, whether bodegas could benefit economically from recycling activities remains uncertain. There is no consensus among the interviewees on the question whether bodegas could have economic benefits from additional sales of customers that visit the bodegas more often because they want to recycle or from the amount of materials they could collect [b 1, b 3, s 1]. Again, it seems most likely that the push for adopting recycling practices would have to be initiated by the bodegas’ providers [b 1, b 3]. Moreover, if bodegas were more regulated by the law, it would require them to adopt more sustainable practices, which could then be transmitted to and internalized by their customers as well.