The recycling rate in the U.S. has risen less than six percent in the past decade and researchers have been trying to figure out why. A possible explanation was recently published in the Journal of Electronic Commerce Research.
Instead of the typical excuses, such as recycling bins are not handy or recycling options are too confusing, this study looked at the actual thought process that leads consumers to recycle or not recycle an item.
The researchers discovered that there is a psychological characteristic to recycling.
According to the authors of the study, Jennifer Argo of the University of Alberta School of Business and Remi Trudel of Boston University, if an item looks damaged, incomplete, small, ripped, shredded, or deformed (a dented can, for example), it invariably gets tossed in the trash.
However, if the item is in whole form-a can that is not dented-it is usually sent to the recycling bin.
In some cases, even if only the paper label on a can has been removed, consumers have a greater tendency to toss it in the trash.
“This is a ‘mind-set’ issue and I do not believe [we must ask] manufacturers to redesign or repackage their items just so they do not lose their form,” says Stephen Ashkin, CEO of Sustainability Dashboard Tools. “However, it would not hurt to add a sign to recycling bins indicating ‘many items, no matter what their condition, can be recycled.'”
Ashkin believes that as a “culture of sustainability” evolves throughout the country and in more organizations, this mind-set condition will begin to dissipate.
“There are lots of things we used to toss in the trash that we now recycle without thinking about it, everything from used motor oil to newspapers,” adds Ashkin. “In time, no matter what form a can or piece of paper takes, these items are likely be recycled without any hesitation as well.”