People recycle more when they know what the material will become. Even though we now have the capacity to recycle plastic, carbon, and other materials to create new products like cell phone cases, shoes, and paper products, the United States is still generating far more trash.
In 2015, the US produced 262 million tons of trash, of which 137.7 million tons ended up in landfills, and only 25.8 percent of waste that was recycled, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
How do we motivate people to recycle more, especially when there are so many advancements being made in recycling and recycled products?
The team learned that consumers are more keen to recycle if they know more about the process and where their waste will end up.
Six different studies were devised to examine the relationship between recycling and consumers and to test how promoting products made from recycled material impacts the decision to recycle.
The first study asked participants to throw away a piece of scratch paper after reading a recycling advertisement. The messages detailed how recyclables were being used to make paper, a guitar, a different product, or just promoted recycling without any mention of new products.
If a participant read about materials being made into different products, they were more likely to recycle their scratch paper versus the participants who read the generic recycling campaign.
In the second study, participants were shown advertisements for products made from recycled plastic or a product manufactured by a company that is committed to recycling. The participants were 87.7 more likely to recycle if they saw the advertisement for a specific product made from recycled materials.
When advertisements focused on transformation, not even explicitly mentioning a product, people were more likely to recycle. People recycle more when they know what the material will become
In one of the last studies, the researchers monitored two college residence halls, one that had recycling signage promoting products made from recyclables and the other had generic recycling ads.
Less recyclable waste ended up in the landfill when the residence hall used signage promoting products and transformation.
“These studies provide compelling evidence that when consumers consider that recyclables are transformed into something new, they recycle more,” said Karen Page Winterich, the first author of the study. “Increased recycling offers not only societal and environmental benefits, but also provides the source materials companies need for sustainable production of goods in a circular economy.”