Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

The 'whole' problem with recycling

Date:
August 22, 2013
Source:
University of Alberta
Summary:
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, researchers say consumers and manufacturers can take steps to override the urge to toss wholly recyclable items.

Findings from a University of Alberta researcher shed new light on what may be stopping people from recycling more.

Related Articles


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."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Alberta. The original article was written by Jamie Hanlon. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Brent McFerran, Jennifer J. Argo. The Entourage Effect. Journal of Consumer Research, 2013

Cite This Page:

University of Alberta. "The 'whole' problem with recycling." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 August 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130822133952.htm>.
University of Alberta. (2013, August 22). The 'whole' problem with recycling. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130822133952.htm
University of Alberta. "The 'whole' problem with recycling." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130822133952.htm (accessed October 25, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

EU Gets Climate Deal, UK PM Gets Knock

EU Gets Climate Deal, UK PM Gets Knock

Reuters - Business Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) EU leaders achieve a show of unity by striking a compromise deal on carbon emissions. But David Cameron's bid to push back EU budget contributions gets a slap in the face as the European Commission demands an extra 2bn euros. David Pollard reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) Miniature deep sea animals discovered off the Australian coast almost three decades ago are puzzling scientists, who say the organisms have proved impossible to categorise. Academics at the Natural History of Denmark have appealed to the world scientific community for help, saying that further information on Dendrogramma enigmatica and Dendrogramma discoides could answer key evolutionary questions. Jim Drury has more. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Tornado Rips Roofs in Washington State

Raw: Tornado Rips Roofs in Washington State

AP (Oct. 24, 2014) A rare tornado ripped roofs off buildings, uprooted trees and shattered windows Thursday afternoon in the southwest Washington city of Longview, but there were no reports of injuries. (Oct. 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Fast-Moving Lava Headed For Town On Hawaii's Big Island

Fast-Moving Lava Headed For Town On Hawaii's Big Island

Newsy (Oct. 24, 2014) Lava from the Kilauea volcano on Hawaii's Big Island has accelerated as it travels toward a town called Pahoa. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins