Can Psychology Influence The Way We Recycle?

Recent studies indicate that the world generates around 2.01 billion tonnes of solid waste annually. Over 33% of the waste is not managed in an eco-friendly manner. The waste generated per person every day is approximately 0.74 kg. But it ranges from 0.11 to 4.54 kg. What’s alarming is that global waste is expected to double to 3.40 billion tones in the future.

Recycling is one of the most effective ways to alleviate this never-ending dilemma in all corners of the globe. When done right, it conserves resources, saves energy, helps protect Mother Earth, and reduces landfill.

Although there are organizations, companies, and people who have begun recycling a few years ago, why does the global waste continue to skyrocket? It’s because only some individuals practice reusing waste. Others are unable to do their part, and there are many factors why they don’t recycle.

In this article, we will explore how psychology affects the way we recycle. Are you ready? Let’s begin.

An Experiment On Cups 

A study on recycling cups conducted by a team of psychologists found that around 48% of participants were more likely to reuse their cup with their correctly spelled names. Only 26% of people recycled cups even without their names. Plus, 24% of participants with misspelled names reused their cups.

Psychologist Jennifer Argo said that people are averse to trashing something when it is tied to their identity.

What’s The Problem? 

Although it is hard to admit, we can be swayed when recycling. Small details in a waste material can relatively affect our perspective and behavior.

A study carried out by Jennifer Argo and Remi Trudel showed that when a waste material loses its shape, the chances of being reused are lower than you’ve thought. A crushed can, for instance, is more likely to end up in a trash bin. When an item gets damaged, it differs from the product prototype version. Then, it is considered less useful, according to Argo.

Small pieces of paper are no exception. In fact, they might end up in a waste can. Although its quantity is higher than a single sheet, people are less likely to reuse them.

But if you ask individuals whether or not the bits of paper could be recycled, approximately 80% of them might say a big yes without hesitation.

The Effect Of Social Norms 

Imagine you are exposed to a prevalent behavior. What would you do? Of course, the chance of doing the same behavior is high.

An experiment led by psychologist Robert Cialdini from Arizona State University found that people are easily influenced by seeing someone throw garbage. Set up in a car park in Texas, one of the team dropped a large flier on the floor in front of those who were walking back to their cars. As these individuals went to their cars, they found a similar flier on their windshield. What did the subjects do?

More than 54% of individuals did the same thing. Yes, they threw the flier on the floor.

In the same year, Cialdini crafted TV advertisements through these findings with a goal to promote recycling throughout Arizona. The ads were about people who shared their recycling experience. Then, they also discouraged individuals who didn’t recycle. After a few months, Arizona increased by approximately 25% of reused materials.

In 2008, Cialdini, together with his colleagues Noah Golden and Vladas Griskevicius, rearranged the wording of the signs under hotel towels. Specifically, they asked guests to reuse their towels. After some time, over 26% of hotel guests reused towels. The rates increased to 33% when they referenced the guests who stayed in the same room. “The closer the influence, the bigger its impact,” Cialdini said.

Cialdini’s research and his highly dedicated team have led to the development of nudges used by governments across the US in different sectors such as public health and even tax returns.

The Shape Of The Bin Matters 

Yes, you read it right. Even the shape of the trash bin can greatly influence one’s recycling behaviors. This is the reason why bins are available with different holes for papers, bottles, and cans.

In a 2008 experiment, two sets of three bins were placed throughout a school building. The first set didn’t have lids. The second one had a lid with a narrow slit for pieces of paper, a flap lid for trash, and a lid for recyclables. Guess what the researcher found out! Surprisingly, the shaped lids increased proper recycling of up to 34%. However, contaminants like food declined by 95%.

The key lies in the concept of affordance. Perhaps, you have encountered the terms before. But what is it really? Simply, it is a property of an object that gives us ideas on how to use it properly. A handle on a door can lead to pulling or pushing. A hanging string, on the other hand, is no exception. Unlike having labels, shaped lids of bins require individuals to heed on what they are doing.

Well-designed waste bins can indeed play a critical role in increasing responsible recycle behaviors, according to Michelle Verges and Sean Duffy.

Seeing Recycling Bins Encourage Consumption 

Placing a recycling bin along with a trash can results in more consumption of materials according to research. Not to mention the home compost bins.

A study participated by two groups indicated that participants who have access to recycling and trash bins used far more paper to test brand new pairs of scissors than the others who don’t have recycling cans. Research on paper towels in restrooms showed the same findings. “If there’s an option to recycle, we use more resources,” author Jesse R. Catlin said.

Bottom Line

Recycling is one of the most effective ways to alleviate waste pollution. But it is easier said than done. The trick here is to have a SMART goal in mind, making everyone patient and persistent.

Although reducing the waste that goes to landfills is complicated, reward yourself when you turn a small chunk of objective into a reality. It would help you be a more responsible citizen, inspiring others to do the same thing.

*collaborative post

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