Do you know why you recycle?
There are many good reasons to recycle. It reduces waste, saves greenhouse emissions, and keeps our communities clean. But there may also be some psychological and social reasons you’ve never considered that may influence why you and your neighbors choose to recycle.
A new study from University at Buffalo (UB) suggests it may not matter how much you actually know when it comes to recycling, but instead how much you think you know and how valuable you think it is socially.
Published in March, the study analyzed what factors play a significant role in a person’s likelihood to recycle. A person’s actual degree of knowledge on recycling didn’t appear to be nearly as important in the “intent to recycle” as one might expect.
With a sample size of 1,010 people, the results showed that the biggest factors in someone’s intent to recycle were subjective knowledge (how much they thought they knew), how much an individual feels connected to their community, and social capital (the impact, positive or negative, an action has on your relationships).
In other words, people recycle because they believe it helps the environment and is, therefore, a positive thing to do. This is reinforced by the fact that their neighbors or other respected members of the community recycle, too. Those who recycle want to do so because it is a positive thing other members of the community do.
Studies like this show that educational efforts on recycling are most effectively organized at the community level. It’s also important to make recycling social in some way, such as visible recycling bins. Recycling and environmental attitudes carry huge social implications – people want to do it, if for no other reason than peer pressure.
Positive social pressure is a good tool to motivate recycling, but it doesn’t mean your community will automatically recycle correctly.
Recycling can be tricky. Certain kinds of plastics, such as water bottles or milk jugs, can be recycled any curbside or office bin, while others, like polystyrene foam, are nearly impossible to recycle.
It’s tough, even if you want to do the right thing!
While the research cited above has shown the importance of cultivating community sentiment around recycling, the important work can’t stop there. Clear labeling of recyclable materials, and ease of access to recycling sites are essential for a cleaner future.