Recycling Behavior: Literature Review

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Several studies have been conducted to explore individual recycling behavior (Coggins 1994; McDonald and Ball, 1998; Schultz et al 1995; Thogersen 1996). Efforts have been made to understand what motivates a person to recycle and certain common characteristics have been identified as common factors in those who recycle and these may be roughly grouped into three categories. The first factor is environmental attitude. Those who value the environment and want to preserve it for its intrinsic value are more likely to be the kind of people who make the effort to recycle (Vining and Ebreo 1992). The second factor includes several sub factors and may be broadly classified as situational factors that impact upon recycling behavior.

Daneshvary et al (1998) examined the role of experience and Schahn and Holzer (1990) examined the role of knowledge in recycling. A study conducted by ERM Ltd and Kingston University in the Chelsea and Kensington areas in U.K. showed that 94% of the residents used curbside recycling, but did not know about the recycling warden scheme,  corroborating the results of the Schahn and Holzer study about the lack of knowledge being a factor in recycling. Some people have altruistic motives to recycle (Hopper and Neilsen 1991) while others have intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to recycle (DeYoung 1986). Other recycle because they perceive environmental threat (Baldassare and Katz 1992), while others are socially influenced to do so. (Chan 1998)

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A study by Berger (1997) examined socio demographic factors in recycling. The socio demographic profile of recyclers was also examined in a  study conducted by Gonzalo Dias Menezes(2005) that revealed that recycling behavior is multi dimensional and depends upon a combination of factors. A study of recycling behavior  was carried out in Latin America (The TGI Latina study) to specifically examine the attitude towards recycling and attendant behavior.(Soong 2002). This study showed that recycling behavior tended to improve with age and older members of the population appeared to be more  conscientious in recycling on a regular basis. While other studies have also shown that recycling behavior tends to increase with age, these are balanced by other studies that show that age has not noticeable effect on recycling behavior. (Laroche et al., 2001; Pickett, Grove, & Kangun, 1993; Webster, 1975).

Similarly, while exploring the responses from participants in the Latin American study of recycling behavior(Soong 2002) taking into account socio economic levels, it was found that contrary to what might have been expected, people from the lower classes tended to be more careful in recycling. This was a surprising finding because the natural assumption was that the better educated people would be the ones who would be more conscious about recycling and take more effort to do so, rather than the poorer sections of society. But this study appears to show a more highly developed sense of the value of recycling in those from lower socio economic groups.

The convenience factor could be a possible reason that may explain the results of the Latin American study. A study that was conducted by Laroche et al         identified the factor of inconvenience as reflecting the extent to which it is convenient for the customer to engage in recycling behavior. This factor holds good in the case of purchase of recyclable products as well as active participation in curb side collection programs – a customer may perceive recycling itself as important but may not actually engage in it actively because of the perceived level of inconvenience.  Marty and Shrum (1994) corroborated the results of this study when they discovered that the participants of their study were influenced by the convenience factor in recycling – the more inconvenient they perceived the recycling activity to be, the less likely they were to indulge in it.

This appears to suggest that customers are not as likely you recycle items if they have to go out of their way to find collection centers for certain waste items. A study conducted by Jenkins et al (2000) examined the percentages that were recycled in respect to five specific materials: glass bottles, plastic bottles, aluminum, newspaper and yard waste. The findings of this study were that access to curb side recycling had a positive effect on recycling behavior and improved percentages of materials that were recycled, thereby lending credence to the possibility that the convenience of curb side access is a factor that impacts upon recycling behavior. A curb side program tends to reduce both time and expense for the customer(Jenkins et al 2000). On the other hand, unit pricing programs are not a successful as the curb side recycling programs because customers pay more for recycling more and it is only those who have a strong sense environmental friendly attitude or equally strong altruistic motives who will be impelled to recycle. In a similar manner, when customers have to go out of their way to access drop off centers where materials may be recycled, the convenience factor is likely to play a significant role (Marty and Shrum 1994).

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  1. Berger, I.E. (1997) The demographics of recycling and the structure of environmental behaviour. Environment and Behaviour, 29 (4), 515-531.
  2. Baldassare, M. and Katz, C. (1992) The personal threat of environmental problems as predictor of environmental practices. Environment and Behaviour, 24 (5), 602-616.
  3. Chan, K. (1998) Mass communication and proenvironmental behaviour: waste recycling in Hong Kong. Journal of Environmental Management, 52, 317-325.
  4. Coggins, P.C. (1994) Who is the Recycler? Journal of Waste Management and Resource Recovery, 1 (2), 69-75.
  5. Daneshvary, N., Daneshvary, R. and Schwer, R.K. (1998) Solid-waste recycling behavior and support for curbside textile recycling. Environment and Behavior, 30 (2), 144-161.
  6. De Young, R. (1986) Some psychological aspects of recycling. Environment and Behavior, 18 (4), 435-449.
  7. Hopper, J.R. and Nielsen, J.M. (1991) Recycling as altruistic behavior: normative and behavioral strategies to expand participation in a community recycling programme. Environment and Behavior, 23 (2), 195-220.
  8. Jenkins, Robin R. Martinez, Salvador A, Palmer Karen and Podolsky, Michael J.(2000). The determinants of household recycling: A material specific analysis of recycling program features and unit pricing. Discussion Paper. 99-41-REV . Resources for the Future.
  9. Laroche, M., Bergeron J., & Barbaro-Forleo, G. (2001). Targeting consumers who are willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products. Journal of Consumer Marketing, 18 (6), 503-520.
  10. McDonald, S. and Ball, R. (1998) Public participation in plastics recycling schemes. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 22, 123-141.
  11. Pickett, G.M., Grove, S.J., & Kangun, N. (1993). An analysis of the conserving consumer: A public policy perspective. In CT. Allen et al. (Eds.), AMA Winter Educators’ Conference Proceedings (pp. 151-153). Chicago: American Marketing Association.
  12. Schahn, J. and Holzer, E. (1990) Studies of individual environmental concern: the role of knowledge, gender and background variables. Environment and Behavior, 22 (6),767-786.
  13. Schultz, P.W., Oskamp, S. and Mainieri, T. (1995) Who recycles and when? A review of personal and situational factors. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 15, 105-121.
  14. Soong, Roland, 2002. Latin American study of recycling behavior.
  15. Thogersen, J. (1994) A model of recycling behaviour with evidence from Danish source separation programmes. Journal of Research in Marketing, 11 (1), 145-163.
  16. Vining, J. and Ebreo, A. (1992) Predicting recycling behavior from global and specific environmental attitudes and changes in recycling opportunities. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 22 (20), 1580-1607.
  17. Webster, FE., Jr. (1975). Determining the characteristics of the socially conscious consumer. Journal of Consumer Research, 2 (3), 188-196.
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