Policy Update

Monthly Messenger: How Human Behavior Influences Recycling Rates



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Understanding Human Behavior Can Lead to More Effective Plastic Pollution Policies

States across the country are working on legislation to address plastic pollution. While there have been extensive campaigns to increase recycling, rates remain low in many areas. This indicates that more must be done to address plastic pollution.

Research on human behavior explains three reasons why people might choose to recycle or not:

  • People are more likely to recycle items that haven’t been distorted – Distorted items, such as a crushed soda can, are thought to be useless and get thrown away.
  • People are more likely to recycle items linked to an element of their identity – People are more likely to recycle items associated with their identity, such as a coffee cup with your name on it.
  • People who know they are going to recycle, often use far more resources – People feel ok using more materials when they know things can be recycled. Pride in recycling overtakes their guilt of using the extra resources.
What These Findings Mean

A better understanding of recycling biases and human behavior can help to craft policies and campaigns to effectively encourage recycling. These biases also further emphasize that to address plastic pollution, policies must go beyond just recycling. To learn more about plastic issues and legislation, visit ncel.net/plastic-pollution.