Researchers at Boston University and University of Alberta found that people are more likely to toss a recyclable item in the trash if the item is imperfect or damaged. Participants in the study, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, normally recycled soda cans 80 percent of the time, but that rate dropped to just 20 percent if the cans were pre-crushed or dented.
The researchers also saw a similar outcome with paper. Participants would likely recycle full pieces of paper but would throw out scraps. The recycling rates for paper scraps went up when study participants were asked to write down what the paper scrap could be used for.
Study researcher Jennifer Argo says that people are psychologically hard-wired to believe that products that are damaged or that aren’t whole — such as small or ripped paper or dented cans — are useless, which leads us to trash them rather than recycle them. She and her colleagues noted that when the scraps were viewed as useful again — such as for writing — the recycle rate jumped back to 80 percent.
So next time you go to throw something out, look beyond the dent in the can or the rip in the paper and see its full recycling potential.
You can learn more about recycling in the Kansas City metro region at RecycleSpot.