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The ‘whole’ problem with recycling

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Posted August 23, 2013

Findings from a University of Alberta researcher shed new light on what may be stopping people from recycling more.

Jennifer Argo, a marketing professor in the U of A’s Alberta School of Business, says that people are psychologically hard-wired to believe that products that are damaged or that aren’t whole—such as small or ripped paper or dented cans—are useless, and this leads users to trash them rather than recycle them. To circumvent overcrowding landfills and environmental problems, Argo says consumers and manufacturers can take steps to override the urge to toss wholly recyclable items.

“We can change the way products look. We can change the way people perceive them too in terms of their usefulness,” she said.

Every scrap is sacred

From their observations and study findings, Argo and co-author Remi Trudel of Boston University found that once a recyclable item ceased to retain its whole form—whether a package that was cut open or a strip of paper torn from a whole piece—users demonstrated an alarming tendency to throw it in the garbage. The process, she says, is seemingly autonomic and likely related to our literal definition of garbage as something being worthless. When it comes to blue-binning it versus using the circular filing system, the size of the object does not matter; the trick, she says, is getting people to recognize that for themselves.

“We gave one group of participants a small piece of paper and asked them to do a creative writing task and just tell us what this paper could be useful for,” said Argo. “As soon as they did that, 80 per cent of the time it went into the recycling. It was an automatic flip that it became useful to them again.”

 

Read more at: Phys.org

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