Encourage recycling by changing packaging

Why is recycling such a big problem nowadays? Why is it that some people don’t see a need to recycle or lack motivation? 

New research conducted at the University of Alberta, Canada, has identified the reason why many people are not recycling as much as they should.

According to Jennifer Argo, a professor at U of A’s Alberta School of Business, people are ‘hard-wired’ to think that products that are broken, damaged, or dented are useless and therefore no longer serve any purpose, which leads to their throwing the products in the trash as opposed to recycling them.

In order get over the urge to throw away damaged products, consumers and manufacturers must radically change the way they perceive them.

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

Argo, along with co-author of the study Remi Trudel of Boston University, found that once a recyclable item becomes slightly damaged, most people have an alarming habit of throwing it away in the trash. According to Argo, this occurs because most of us associate something that is worthless or useless as garbage.

The size of the object does not matter, the trick is making people recognize whether it is worth recycling.

Argo said:

“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. 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.”

Imperfect cans being trashed?

When people see a product that is damaged, there is less incentive for them to link it to anything useful.

For example, the vast majority of people would reject a dented or crushed can and put it straight in the trash, as opposed to recycling it.

Argo added that if “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.”

Changing recycling beliefs

The main challenge is changing people’s beliefs about recycling. There is a major lack of public encouragement to recycle and information on the ‘need to recycle and compost as much of household goods as possible’.

Argo concluded that one way of addressing the issue would be a radical change in packaging products, which may seem controversial at first, but she notes that using more expensive packaging that preserves the product’s original image as much as possible would increase the rate of recycling.

“Make it easier to preserve the condition the package is actually in once it has been opened. It might mean more expensive packaging because it’s a different type. 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.”

Recycling facts

Recycle Across America, a non-profit organization promoting the importance of recycling, published a few facts promoting the benefits of recycling:

  1. Less than 35% of households and less than 10% of businesses in the U.S. recycle.
  2. Recycling a can uses 95% less energy compared to creating a can with virgin material.
  3. Recycling one ton of plastic bottles saves the same amount of energy that a two person household would use in an entire year.
  4. Every hour Americans throw away 2.5 million plastic bottles.