Have you ever wondered why someone may take a perfectly recyclable item and simply throw it in the trash, when they have the option to recycle it? I know I have, and apparently so did Jennifer Argo, a researcher at the University of Alberta’s Alberta School for Business, and Remi Trudel of Boston University, who conducted a study and found that our perception of a package’s recyclability has more of an effect on whether we recycle it than any markings or indications on the package itself.
For instance, if a package has to be cut open or if a piece of paper is torn from it in order to empty its contents, many people then see the material as being damaged and therefore no longer recyclable, which is entirely inaccurate. According to Argo,
“People see it as a damaged good that is not useful anymore in any way—what can you do with a crushed can? … If the can came to you crushed and you had to make the decision, our research shows that it’s going in the garbage.”
This is particularly troubling when you consider that recycling an aluminum can could save 95% of the energy required to produce it, or enough energy to power a TV for 3 hours.
And while it’s true that many rural areas still have limited access to proper recycling facilities, the fact that those who can recycle opt not to because of misinformation about the recycling process is nearly as concerning.
Based on their research, Argo and Trudel see the next logical step to increase recycling rates is by making it “easier to preserve the condition the package is actually in once it has been opened.” They also acknowledge the importance of repeatedly sending the message that a package is recyclable in order to drill it into the mind of the consumer, but of the potential impact a change in packaging could have on our perception of recycling, Argo said:
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“I think it’s worth the investment because I have no doubt in my mind that people will recycle it to a greater extent than they currently do.”