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A Sustainable Future gives out grants to young UvA Economics and Business researchers twice a year. Marketing researcher Jonne Guyt obtained such a grant 3 years ago. He used it to partially fund his research into a policy change made by Dutch municipalities. This change was made to tackle waste created by the distribution of physical flyers. Guyt wanted to dive into the effects of this new policy.

Retailers often use store flyers to communicate prices and promotions of their products. While many households indicate reading and using them, others argue many are thrown out unread. This creates waste which is bad for the environment due to the excess use of paper, ink, and logistics.

From NEE/NEE (no/no) to JA/JA (yes/yes)

Recently, 7 Dutch municipalities made a policy change concerning the NEE/NEE stickers. These are stickers people can put on their letter boxes to indicate they don’t want to receive flyers. The municipalities decided to move from an opt-out policy (NEE/NEE) to an opt-in policy (JA/JA). Guyt and his fellow researchers found that store flyer distribution decreased by 50% under the new policy. The drastic change did not affect grocery shopping behaviour, along 7 measures of shopping behaviour, including total spending or purchases made on promotion. These findings suggest that the households that no longer received flyers were not using them. This implies it is possible to obtain environmental wins at zero economic costs.

Effect on shopping behaviour?

ABS researcher Guyt has always been fascinated by the fact that some people plan their weekly groceries based on store flyers they receive. ‘Introducing the JA/JA sticker meant that a lot less households would receive paper store flyers. Naturally, I wondered whether this change would affect their shopping behaviour,’ Guyt explains.

‘According to some statistics, 95% of all households in the Netherlands that receive physical paper store flyers read them, 82% use them, and 51% indicate they would miss them if the flyers stopped appearing in their mailboxes. However, NGOs and politicians have indicated the actual number are far lower. If many households indeed do not use them, it would mean we are wasting a lot of paper and other resources for no good reason.’

Big environmental savings

With this ‘'minor’ policy change a lot of environmental savings have already been made. Guyt: ‘Calculations show that the reduced distribution in these 7 municipalities alone (close to 1.5 million households in total) lead to energy savings of 214,268 gigajoules (equal to annual consumption by 24,900 households), emissions savings of 14,481 tons of CO2 (equal to the annual emission of 4,325 cars), material savings of 14,784 tons (equal to the weight of 3,700 elephants), and decreased water usage of 278,720 m3 (equal to the annual consumption of 5,400 households). Interestingly, our findings show that this reduction comes at no economic cost. We hope that policymakers will use our findings to expedite the adoption of the policy.’