To recycle or to trash?

An array of biases sway our decisions to recycle, writes Remi Trudel in Harvard Business Review

When Remi Trudel, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Questrom School of Business and his colleague Jennifer Argo examined the contents of the recycling and trash bins in 22 academic offices, they noticed a stark bias. They found that people gravitated towards recycling intact pieces of paper rather than scraps or fragments. Further, a trip to the local coffee shop motivated them to examine people’s likelihood to recycle items linked to their identities.

The researchers subsequently conducted a series of experiments to unearth insightful findings about recycling.

For instance, a section of participants were asked to cut up sheets of paper in comparison to others that weren’t. The group was then requested to dispose the waste on their way out. The results show that people were more likely to trash scraps of paper rather than throwing them in the recycle bin. Trudel and his colleagues conducted a similar exercise with aluminum cans to find that people were more inclined to trash distorted items.

In another experiment, they recruited volunteers to evaluate juice samples, and intentionally misspelled their names on the cups. Volunteers that had their names spelled correctly were significantly more likely to recycle their cups.

In addition, the researchers also found that people who are prepared to recycle after conducting a task that generates waste used more resources than they otherwise would have.

Can awareness about disposal behavior change the way we recycle? In his article, Trudel suggests that “by bringing our disposal biases to light, we can alter individual behavior, spur the creation of packaging that encourages recycling, and increase the effectiveness of environmental policies and campaigns.

Read Remi’s article on Harvard Business Review’s and a coverage on Mother Nature Network.

To view the published study head over to the Journal of Consumer Research.




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