Findings from a University of Alberta researcher shed new light on what may be stopping people from recycling more.
Jennifer Argo, a marketing professor in the U of A's Alberta School of Business, says that people are psychologically hard-wired to believe that products that are damaged or that aren't whole—such as small or ripped paper or dented cans—are useless, and this leads users to trash them rather than recycle them. To circumvent overcrowding landfills and environmental problems, Argo says consumers and manufacturers can take steps to override the urge to toss wholly recyclable items.
"We can change the way products look. We can change the way people perceive them too in terms of their usefulness," she said.
Every scrap is sacred
From their observations and study findings, Argo and co-author Remi Trudel of Boston University found that once a recyclable item ceased to retain its whole form—whether a package that was cut open or a strip of paper torn from a whole piece—users demonstrated an alarming tendency to throw it in the garbage. The process, she says, is seemingly autonomic and likely related to our literal definition of garbage as something being worthless. When it comes to blue-binning it versus using the circular filing system, the size of the object does not matter; the trick, she says, is getting people to recognize that for themselves.
"We gave one group of participants a small piece of paper and asked them to do a creative writing task and just tell us what this paper could be useful for," said Argo. "As soon as they did that, 80 per cent of the time it went into the recycling. It was an automatic flip that it became useful to them again."
The crushed-can conundrum
The other challenge to changing recycling habits comes into play when the product, while still whole, is somehow damaged, imperfect or spoiled. Using a common household item from the study as an example, Argo says although some people crush their cans to make more room in the recycling bag, they overwhelmingly reject a can that is pre-crushed or otherwise dented or damaged. Again, she points out, it is all in the way the usefulness of the can's current condition is perceived.
"People see it as a damaged good that is not useful anymore in any way—what can you do with a crushed can?" Argo said. "If the can came to you crushed and you had to make the decision, our research shows that it's going in the garbage."
Change products, change beliefs?
Argo stresses the challenge to recycling is largely about changing people's beliefs. Policy-makers need to step up efforts to encourage recycling, especially when it comes to messages about the need to recycle and compost as much of household goods as possible. Size and condition are artificial determinants. Incorporating repetitive messaging from producers encouraging recycling is important, she notes, but so is looking at changing packaging.
"Make it easier to preserve the condition the package is actually in once it has been opened," said Argo. "It might mean more expensive packaging because it's a different type.
"I think it's worth the investment because I have no doubt in my mind that people will recycle it to a greater extent than they currently do."
Jamie Hanlon | EurekAlert!
Researchers simplify tiny structures' construction drip by drip
12.11.2018 | Princeton University, Engineering School
Mandibular movement monitoring may help improve oral sleep apnea devices
06.11.2018 | Elsevier
Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.
Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...
Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.
In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...
On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.
When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure
Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...
Physicists at ETH Zurich demonstrate how errors that occur during the manipulation of quantum system can be monitored and corrected on the fly
The field of quantum computation has seen tremendous progress in recent years. Bit by bit, quantum devices start to challenge conventional computers, at least...
09.11.2018 | Event News
06.11.2018 | Event News
23.10.2018 | Event News
13.11.2018 | Life Sciences
13.11.2018 | Life Sciences
13.11.2018 | Awards Funding