Consumers less likely to recycle 'distorted' packaging

Wednesday, 21 August, 2013

According to a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, consumers are more likely to throw a dented can or cut-up piece of paper in the bin than recycle them.

“Although products that have changed shape are still recyclable, the likelihood of a consumer recycling a product or throwing it in the trash can be determined by the extent to which it has been distorted during the consumption process,” authors Remi Trudel, of Boston University, and Jennifer J Argo, of the University of Alberta, wrote.

The authors looked at how consumers treat products that have gone through physical changes during and after consumption that ‘distort’ the product, but do not affect its recyclability. They found that people are less likely to recycle distorted products than products that held their original shape after consumption.

In one study, participants were asked to evaluate a pair of scissors. One group was asked to cut one or two pieces of paper into smaller pieces; another was asked to evaluate the scissors without cutting the paper. When asked to dispose of the paper, consumers recycled the whole sheet of paper more often than the smaller pieces, regardless of the total amount of paper.

The authors say these results could help companies and public policymakers find novel ways to encourage consumers to recycle.

“These findings point to important outcomes of the post-consumption process that have been largely ignored and provide initial insight into the psychological processes influencing recycling behaviour,” the authors wrote.

The study will be published in the December 2013 issue of the journal.

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