The real story ends in landfill: Using behavioural insights to reduce the amount of unrequested goods sent from Australia during times of humanitarian crises in the Pacific


Executive Summary

Human behaviour is largely dominated by quick, automatic and intuitive decision-making. The research found that members of the Australian community who send unrequested goods to disaster-zones operate in this quick and automatic mode of thinking, piecing together information that supports their beliefs about sending goods.

  • Though their intentions are good, they do not stop to consider where their donated goods really end up, nor whether they actually had a positive or a negative impact on the disaster zone. To change behaviour, this automatic mode of thinking needs to be disrupted.

  • New reference points which depict the reality of unrequested goods need to be established, because simply saying ‘Cash is Best’ is not enough to disrupt existing beliefs about goods donation behaviour.

  • This research has found that public messaging needs to include new pieces of information which are binary in their nature. This will ensure that they cannot be interpreted in a way that can still support the false positive narrative that unrequested goods both reach and are useful to people affected by crises.

  • Of four optimised messages which were quantitatively tested with over 1000 people in Australia, the most resonating and behaviourally effective message was one which emphasised that many of the goods sent to disaster zones ended up in landfill.

  • The ‘Landfill’ communication reduced the likelihood that a participant would send goods by 50.1%. The ‘cash only’ message – which focused on how cash was flexible and could be transformed into different forms of assistance – achieved only a 23.4% reduction in likelihood to donate goods.

  • The message on ‘Delays’ to unrequested goods reaching their destination achieved the second greatest reduction in likelihood to donate goods with 38.4%, and unrequested goods ‘Clogging’ supply chains saw a 30.0% reduction in likelihood to donate goods.

  • The ‘Landfill’ communication was proven to be effective because:

    • It provided new information and a new anchor in the decision-making process for the audience;

    • The word ‘landfill’ and image featured in the concept provided a quick mental shortcut for waste;

    • There was cognitive ease associated with the message, because a mental picture of landfill is very easily brought to mind and can only be a negative association; and - It is a definitive ‘full stop’ to the journey of a donated good, and, therefore, there is no ambiguity or possible rationale that could still provide justification for sending goods.

  • Through this research, there is now behavioural insights and strategies to not only understand this behaviour, but to actively work to reduce it.

  • While this research provides firm foundations for reducing the likelihood of sending UBDs in the future, it cannot be assumed that it will also automatically increase cash donations. There is a need for complementary research into the behaviour of donating cash to fully understand how to maximize cash donations.