If we have the option to recycle, does that mean we don’t feel the need to reduce or reuse our resources? That’s the conclusion that one recently released University of California, Irvine study found.
The study by Jesse R. Catlin and his partner, Yitong Wang of Beijing’s Tsinghua University, suggests that perhaps offering more recycling options isn’t the best way to go about reducing consumption.
As outlined in the report, “Recycling Gone Bad: When the Option to Recycle Increases Resource Consumption,” 44 study participants were separated into two groups. Both sets of participants were told to test a “new brand of scissors” using the blank paper in front of them, but one group had a recycling and trash bin in the room and the other group had only a trash bin. Participants were then instructed to cut a series of shapes out from the paper. Finally, the participants were asked to take five minutes to evaluate the scissors in any way they deemed fit.
The group that had a recycling bin at their disposal used more paper to test the scissors than the group without the bin.
The next experiment took place in a men’s restroom, where researchers looked at the usage of paper towels when a recycling bin was or was not present. Consistent with their hypothesis, more paper towels were used when there was a recycling bin available.
The study concludes that if the resource is free, a subject will use more of it if they know recycling is an option.
“Although we demonstrate the hypothesized effect of recycling availability on consumption, our results do not provide any direct process insight as to why this may occur,” Catlin and Wang write in the study. “A number of plausible mechanisms can be advanced for consideration in future research. For example, the option to recycle may function as a means of reducing the guilt associated with consuming and disposing of a product, which therefore increases consumption through mitigation of guilt associated with (over) consumption.”