There is a way to make recycling more effective and the answer lies in psychology.
Recycling is often listed among the key practices for greening our lifestyles, yet it is just at 13% on average globally. Yet there is a way to make it more effective and the answer lies in psychology.
A new study published in the Journal of Marketing suggests that instead of teaching people to recycle, it’s better to make it crystal-clear to them how recycling works and what recyclables are turned into. People are more likely to act when they know the ins and outs, argue researchers.
With the recycling industry adapting to bans on waste imports in Asia, rethinking recycling is more relevant than ever. Still, the basic problem remains the same: people continue to throw out objects that could be reused, recycled or otherwise repurposed. Luckily, the scientists from Penn State University and Boston College may have the answer about how to change this: help people imagine the new life of the items they are used to treating as trash.
Based on six experiments with different communication strategies, their findings indicate that showing what waste products can become as the result of recycling delivers the best possible outcome in terms of actual recycling behaviors. Much less effective was general messaging aimed at promoting recycling and resource conservation. The findings proved robust across different settings and types of interaction: viewing videos, responding to Google ads, reacting to posters in college halls, and receiving recycling guidance at football matches.
Surprisingly, it didn’t matter much what the products were recycled into: messages about old plastic bottles turned into new ones were as effective as the messages about plastic bottles turned into jackets. Based on the findings, the researchers conclude that it is a process rather than the outcome that is what matters most: people like to imagine how something old becomes something new and this leads to greater motivation to recycle.
Yet few campaigns employ such “product transformation” messaging so the researchers recommend adopting the approach on a wider scale. With more and more companies relying on recycled materials for new products, the approach could also help companies devote more energies to upcycled products.