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Recycling Psychology: Influencing Behavioral Change

Welcome to today’s episode and our final vlog segment for this month on The Psychology of Recycling. Shaun and Michelle did an awesome job the past few weeks teaching us about the behaviors and habits associated with recycling. Today we are going to look a little bit more into this topic so put on those thinking caps and let’s get started!

Today I’m going to be offering you some tips and suggestions you can use in your own office to improve recycling by altering the mind and changing human behavior. When we start to understand brain patterns and behaviors associated with recycling, we can then start to analyze how we can make it easier and more plausible for people to recycle properly and strengthen participation.

The challenge of recycling can be combatted by changing people’s beliefs of recycling. Studies show that we are easily persuaded, and small details produce big changes in behaviors. Producers need to step up and incorporate repetitive messaging encouraging recycling and stressing its importance to consumers.

Simple tactics like altering the size and shape of the openings of containers for things like bottles, cans and paper can influence recycling behaviors. The shaped lids provide a stronger message than just the labels and require people to pay attention to what they are doing. In one particular study the shaped lids increased correct recycling by 34%, and the number of contaminants in the recycling stream decreased by 95%!

Small changes in convenience have a big impact on performance. By placing bins only 1.5 meters away from exits and entrances, this can boost recycling and composting rates by 141%! Make the behavior as simple as possible by placing containers where people need them the most. If paper towels are compostable, put an organics container right below the paper towel dispenser, and move the garbage container further away. Then watch your diversion rate soar!

Are you asking yourself:

  • What are some of the barriers to change?
  • Why won’t people just change their behaviors, especially if it’s the right thing to do?
  • Unfortunately, some people are just waiting for that magical future design or technological advancement that will take care of the problem for us. Some people don’t have the resources and may not have containers. Maybe they are concerned about sunk costs, they have already purchased a whack of plastic cutlery, so they won’t consider purchasing reusable. Some people don’t believe that waste generation is an issue. Some people think, “Why should I bother to recycle if no one else does, what’s the point?” These are some common ideologies of why people don’t recycle, so coming up with solutions to these issues is a step in the right direction.

    Another tactic that has worked well is to trigger the behavior by using prompts. In Vancouver they show a video above a sorting station to teach people what goes where in that specific container. The video shows the materials that you will get from that area, for example, in a cafeteria, it will show the proper disposal of specific cafeteria items which then strengthens diversion rates.

    Try using authority figures and senior staff to encourage and praise proper behavior. If these staff members model the behavior, other staff are more likely to participate.

    Using education and awareness to encourage proper recycling is one of the most effective things you can do. Use persuasive tactics to change attitudes, strengthen values, improve commitment, and change perception of social norms. Recycling is a private action, when you make public people who are participating, public recognition. They are likely to continue.


    We hope we gave you some helpful tips today on how to improve your recycling program using psychology. Thanks for watching this episode of Green Thinking. If you are interested in learning more on the Psychology of Recycling be sure to check out our free webinar on June 28th at 10 am EST. If you can’t make this webinar, register and we will send you a recording!

    You might also be interested in:
    Waste Diversion at the City of Brantford Canada Day Festival
    Waste Audit Review at The Sandbox Centre
    Recycling In The Food Service Industry

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