A new study has revealed that consumers are more likely to recycle their waste if they know what products are produced from it. Researchers at Penn State University and Boston College published their findings in the Journal of Marketing, providing evidence that people will recycle more if they can see what useful products are produced from the waste.
While sustainability programmes and recycling initiatives are fast becoming mainstream for businesses and hotels, individual consumer recycling habits are lagging behind. Household recycling is growing in South Africa, but not at the same rate as corporate initiatives. To encourage individual recycling efforts, consumers need to be made aware of the useful products that stem from their recyclable waste.
How the recycling study was conducted
The researchers ran a series of tests – six studies around the promotion of recyclable waste and how these affect recycling rates:
- In the first test, participants were asked to dispose of some paper. Those participants who were told that the waste paper would be recycled into more paper had an 80.5% recycling rate. Participants who were told that the paper would be recycled into a different product (a guitar) had a 79.1% recycling rate. Those subjects that were not told what the waste paper would become only managed a 50.9% recycling rate.
- The second study revealed that consumers who viewed advertisements for products made from recycled plastic were more likely to recycle (87.7%). Participants who viewed advertisements that only mentioned that a company engages in recycling practices achieved a recycling rate of 71.7%.
- In the third test, researchers simply told participants that recycling gives waste items a new life as useful products. They did not specify what these new products are. This simple message inspired participants to recycle more. Simply by making participants aware of the possibilities, they managed to improve recycling rates across the board.
- The next three tests were conducted in the field. A Google Ads campaign was created for a denim recycling programme. One advert mentioned that the denim would be recycled into new jeans and the other advert did not. The researchers found that the click-through rate for the first advert (that mentioned jeans) was 0.26% and that the click-through rate for the second advert was 0.18%. This shows that online consumers are more interested in recycling their denim products if they know that new garments will be created from the material.
- The fifth study was conducted at a university sports match. Fans that were told what products could be made from recycled beverage cups and food packaging then recycled 58.1% of their waste. Fans that were only told what could and could not be recycled only recycled 19% of their waste.
- The last study involved an audit of two university dining hall waste collection stations. One dining hall had signage that depicted products made from recyclables and the other dining hall had no signage at all. In the bins of the first dining hall, 51.5% of refuse could have been recycled. In the bins of the control dining hall, 62.9% of the waste was recyclable. This shows that the signage led students to place more of their recyclable waste into recycling bins instead of landfill bins.
“This research has important implications for companies and organizations seeking to increase recycling rates. These studies provide compelling evidence that when consumers consider that recyclables are transformed into something new, they recycle more,” says Karen Winterich, lead author of the research.
“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,” she explains. Showing consumers what their recyclable waste can become is not a difficult task. It is an easy way to raise awareness of the need to recycle and have a direct positive impact on recycling rates at the same time.
Averda is a leading waste management provider with over 50 years of experience across three continents. Through growth, transformation and engagement, we strive to find new ways of managing waste while protecting the community and environment.
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