Research Shows People Waste More When Blue Bins Available
The presence of recycling bins seems to give people an excuse to use more resources, according to new research.
Researchers Jesse R. Catlin at University of California-Irvine and Yitong Wang at Tsinghua University in Beijing ran two experiments showing that people will use more recyclables if a blue bin is around. Their research appears in the Journal of Consumer Psychology in an article titled "Recycling Gone Bad: When the Option to Recycle Increases Resource Consumption."
In one experiment, 44 undergraduate students were asked to test scissors by cutting shapes in paper while sitting alone in a room with a ream of paper on a table. Half the students were in rooms with recycling bins and trash cans; the other half were in rooms with only trash cans. Researchers then measured the amount of paper the students discarded.
Those students in rooms with blue bins used almost twice as much paper as the students in rooms with only a trash can.
In the other experiment, the researchers placed blue recycling bins in a men's room on campus for 15 days and discovered that paper towel usage increased by half-a-paper-towel per visitor compared to usage for the 15 days prior when only a trash can had been in the restroom.
"Consumers may view the ability to recycle a product as a 'get out of jail free card' that makes consumption more acceptable," writes Catlin in the Journal, according to a report in the Pacific Standard. "Put differently, the ability to recycle a product may also serve as a way to justify increased consumption."
The researchers added: "Our findings indicate that merely emphasizing the positive aspects of recycling and enhancing the availability of recycling options may not be sufficient to save natural resources, or at least does not always yield the maximum environmental benefit."