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Consumer Behavior and Recycling

Consumer behavior is commonly defined as the study of individuals, groups, or organizations and the processes they use to select, secure, use, and dispose of products, services, experiences, or ideas to satisfy needs and the impacts that these processes have on the consumer and society.


Whether we realize it or not, biases impact the way we select, use, and dispose of products.


But how exactly?


To better understand the predispositions that effect disposal and/or recycling of potential end-of-life products, Remi Trudel, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Questrom School of Business, Boston University, conducted a study on the Behavioral Economics of Recycling.


In Trudel’s study, he noted that even the most committed recyclers display erratic behavior when it comes to their decisions on what to put in the green bin and what to throw away. A closer look into the matter, and two consistent biases emerged.


1) People are more likely to recycle items that haven’t been distorted.Aluminum cans 2

In general, the more distorted something is from its original form, the more discarded it looks. The more discarded something looks, the more it’s seen as useless, without a future, and simply ready for the trash. When Trudel’s team studied the contents of recycle bins, they found more full sheets of paper than paper scraps and more uncrushed soda cans than crushed cans. 



“Though we have all been trained to recycle many common items, the EPA estimates only about 65% of paper and 55 % of aluminum gets recycled. By making people aware of this bias, we could potentially change disposal behavior. And sustainability minded companies could improve recycle rates through innovations in packaging that, for example, increase ease in opening and decrease distortion, which could improve the likelihood that packaging will be recycled and even reused.”


2) People are more likely to recycle items linked to an element of their identity.

Just like it may be difficult to throw away an old name badge, prize ribbon, or personalized pen, Trudel’s study found that people are less likely to trash something with their name on it. For example, if you’re going biking with a group of friends, and everyone has a water bottle on which they write their name, it’s more likely that those bottles will end up in a recycling bin rather than a trash can.



“By creating an identity link or making an existing link stronger, we might make consumers less likely to trash recyclable items. Many firms already link products to our identities but may not be aware of the disposal consequences.”



COPS recycle sign



















By becoming aware of the biases that influence our recycling habits, and understanding how those biases effect what we put in the bin, we can continue to improve our recycling programs at home, in the workplace, and in our communities.


Click here to view more of Trudel’s Behavioral Economics of Recycling study.


Thanks for reading!


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Sunday, 19 September 2021

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Well-run recycling programs cost less to operate than waste collection, landfilling, and incineration.