Our world often revolves around material stuff. Blame it on capitalism – the average person now owns a lot of things he does not need nor will ever use but felt compelled to buy. That’s the power of sales talk. Even the ads you see on TV, on billboards, and even those tiny pop-ups on your computer screen all deliver the same message – to buy more and more material things. It’s an endless cycle, an insatiable desire to accumulate objects that have made the world more stuffy than it already is aside from them being detrimental to your health at times.
Apart from the booming human population, material objects continue to clutter the world. It not only takes up a lot of space in your home and a big chunk of your paycheck but it has proven to be detrimental to the environment as many of these objects aren’t non-biodegradable and some can be toxic too. Attaching sentimental value to an object makes it also harder for people to throw it away and you might probably hold onto it for years.
The act of depositing an item into a recycling bin doesn’t make it disappear — nor guarantee that it won’t end up in a landfill — yet it’s quite enough to influence our decisions. Sometimes for the worse.
In a study titled “Recycling gone bad,” participants were split into two groups, given sheets of paper and asked to rate a new brand of scissors. One group only had a trash bin in the room, the other both a trash bin and a recycling bin. This group used far more paper to “test” the scissors.
A similar finding came from a follow-up study involving paper towels in a restroom. A bin marked with a recycling symbol created a significant uptick in consumption.
If the option to recycle is present, it seems, we use more resources: “We think this happens because people think about recycling in terms of its environmental benefits, with less awareness that there are also environmental costs,” said Jesse R. Catlin of Sacramento State University, one of the authors of the study.
“This view may allow people to rationalize to themselves that consuming more is OK, as long as they recycle.”
You can see it all around you. Landfills are as high as mountains. Trash is everywhere. The governments of most countries are now implementing stricter recycling policies to force the people to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Our lives may be fleeting but our trash stays behind and it gets really crowded over time.
The study shows that placing bins 1.5 metres away from suite doors drastically boosts recycling and composting rates by 141 per cent. The findings highlight how small changes in convenience can have a big impact on performance.
“We know people care about the environment but having the desire to recycle and compost doesn’t always translate into behaviour changes,” said Alessandra DiGiacomo, the study’s lead author and a PhD student in the UBC department of psychology. “Perhaps unsurprisingly, we found that people composted and recycled much more when we made it more convenient.”
Since convenience has been shown to change other types of behaviours, such as choosing healthier food options, the researchers predicted that convenience would also increase composting and recycling behaviours.
Research now shows that human psychology plays a big role in a person’s recycling efforts. These studies reveal that human behavior is largely influenced by any changes in their surroundings. For instance, we all know what recycling is all about and how it helps the environment yet only a handful does it. Even though education helps in informing people about the subject, convenience plays a big part to how well the majority will support the idea. Will you go out of your way and throw a piece of trash when no trash can is in sight? Or will you save up used plastic bottles for recycling and bring to the next town for recycling since your city does not have a recycling center of your own?
While your good judgment tells you to do the right thing, you can easily shrug off the idea and justify your actions using various excuses you can come up with. When it comes to waste management, the experts and government leaders should include human behavior in planning for systems to implement so their efforts do not go to waste and the waste management issue finally be solved.