Bridging the Behavioral Gap for Recycling Success – Environmental Leader

For some consumers, size may influence perceptions of value or recyclability. The larger the material, the less likely they will be to throw it away. For example, they may think twice about tossing a more substantial automotive battery into the trash believing that larger batteries may “need to be recycled.” In fact, the car battery has a higher likelihood of proper disposal—almost 99% are recycled (Green Car Reports)–compared to a small rechargeable battery, despite the fact that both contain potentially harmful toxins.

Frequency and Immediacy of Disposal

Thankfully, many recyclables have long, productive lives, which mean consumers may not often need to think about recycling certain products. Mattresses, carpet, rechargeable batteries and cellphones are good examples of materials that need attention once every two to 10 years, depending on use. Other recyclables, such as glass, plastic and aluminum cans, likely require daily interaction. When consumers purchase a can of soda, for example, they usually consume the beverage shortly thereafter, making this material almost immediately available for recycling.

Recycling, performed as a routine behavior, becomes a habit. It’s one of the reasons for such high numbers of people participating in recycling programs designed to collect and process glass and plastic drinking bottles. A 2012 IPSOS study, commissioned by Call2Recycle, revealed that 76% of American’s have recycled aluminum or steel cans, 72% have recycled plastic bottles and containers, while 71% recycled paper or cardboard (IPSOS).

Though people may not consciously realize it, their recycling behaviors are also influenced by whether a product is consumable or durable. And—if consumable—how quickly it is depleted and recycled. This is because recycling isn’t generally considered until a product needs to be disposed. With paint, as a case in point, there should be nothing left at the end of the paint job. If paint is leftover, the consumer must determine what–if anything–to do with the excess.

Durable goods are different. When consumers purchase a durable product, such as a cordless drill, they may understand and intend to recycle the drill and the battery when they are no longer operational. However, because this tool will last for many years, consumers aren’t immediately faced with the need to dispose of it. A durable product may require investigation of disposal options, which delays action. With this, good intentions fade, resulting in recyclables that are tossed into the trash or hoarded for lengthy amounts of time. The BAJ study found that, on average, products are hoarded twice as long as their lifecycle.1

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