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Shared Responsibility: Do Drinks Brands Actually Care About Recycling?


This week is an incredibly special week in the TFT calendar, and not just because we launched our Earth Day Spring Clean campaign. This week marks the conclusion of over a year of research by Masters student George Gilham, who has been completing a study of the role of communication in single-use drinks container pollution. George handed in his dissertation on Thursday, and we couldn't be more proud! Well done George!


To mark the moment George today shares some of his research into how recycling messaging does (and doesn't!) appear across Lucozade marketing, which has been the focus of the research. Read on to find out what he learned!


(Taken from a Lucozade Alert advert uploaded to YouTube in 2022)


As consumers we have a moral responsibility to dispose of our waste products in environmentally friendly ways. This would typically mean using appropriate waste disposal channels and not polluting natural environments. That responsibility does not however end at consumers; producers need to ensure that their products and advertising are properly labelled with recycling symbols and that their products are sustainably created and packaging sourced ethically.


Recycling is far from a perfect system, with issues including capacity limits resulting in wealthier countries shipping off recycling overseas, microplastics escaping into the natural environment from the recycling process itself, and less than 10% of all plastic produced being actually recycled.


Recycling is viewed as a solution to single-use plastics, but we believe it is wrongly used as a justification for their continued production, when really we should see more efforts targeted at producing reusable product containers and reducing overall consumption. Despite this, recycling does have some efficacy in helping to reduce the use of virgin materials, and it is the duty of producers to try and promote responsible waste disposal methods whenever possible. What follows is an outline of my research into the presence of recycling marketing in Lucozade adverts.


A common theme I encountered throughout my research is the lack of anti-litter messaging before 2020. As for why anti-litter messaging in Lucozade adverts is a relatively recent occurrence I’m not sure. The biggest turning point was the Lucozade “It’s ON” campaign, (2021-present) which features an advertisement showing someone throwing an empty Lucozade Energy bottles into a recycle bin.


Progressive policy on single-use plastics in the UK such as the plastic bag tax (introduced 2015), the ban of single-use plastic cutlery, balloon sticks, polystyrene cups and food containers in England (introduced 2023) and Extended Producer Responsibility [ERP] legislation (estimated to be introduced 2025) could contribute to a need for Lucozade to increase its presentation an environmentally conscious.


When looking at examples of how Lucozade has incorporated the 'recycle' symbol into advertising, it must be stated that the recycle symbol featured is often small and easy to miss. This finding is consistent across all sub-brands of Lucozade. 


(Taken from a Lucozade Sport Zero advert uploaded to YouTube in 2023)


(Taken from a Suntory Twitter post in 2023)


These three examples are just some of many. It should also be noted that not all Lucozade adverts do include a recycle symbol at all, even recent adverts from 2023. The size and placement of the symbol does not draw attention to it. Furthermore no adverts from what I have researched have made a point of incorporating text which encourages people to recycle used Lucozade products. A further element you may have noticed is that recycle symbols are not always present on the front packaging of all Lucozade products.


Though Lucozade states recycling is a behaviour they are commited to 'encouraging', the scope of recycle symbols and anti-litter messaging in advertising seems both insufficient and inconsistent.


The only example of anti-litter messaging that went further than the presence of the recycle symbol, is an advent from 2021 which shows an individual disposing of an empty Lucozade Energy bottle into a recycling bin.


(Taken from ‘Hula’ on the Lucozade Energy YouTube channel, uploaded 2021)


In order to fulfil its environmental responsibilities, Lucozade needs to start including recycle symbols on the front of all of its products. Additionally, recycle symbols should always be present in Lucozade adverts and should not be small and easily overlooked. Recycle symbols alone are not enough to solve Lucozade’s plastic pollution problem, but they do act as cues and reminders to responsibly dispose of the product. Incorporating other forms of anti-litter messaging into adverts such as more instances showing individuals throwing away used bottles into recycle bins could help promote better behaviours, especially if Lucozade were to cast high-profile individuals performing the act. Lucozade certainly has the financial capital to do so, and has a history of casting high-profile sportsmen and sportswomen in Lucozade adverts.


Thanks George for such an incredible insight! If you want to learn more about how we promote 'shared responsibility', why not join our final Digital Action Session on Accountability on Wednesday April 10th at 7pm UK time! Sign up here.







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