Consumers are more likely to throw away a dented can or chopped-up piece of paper than recycle it, according to a new study.
In an article published in the Journal of Consumer Research, the authors of the study show people are more likely to have good recycling habits if the product is in good condition.
Authors Remi Trudel from Boston University and Jennifer J. Argo from University of Alberta wrote: “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.
“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.”
In the study, the researchers looked at how consumers treat products that have gone through physical changes during and after consumption that distort the product.
For example, a piece of paper might be crumpled or torn into smaller pieces or an aluminium can might get crushed or dented.
When this happens, people are less likely to recycle, they discovered.
In one study, participants were asked to evaluate a pair of scissors. Some were asked to cut either one or two sheets of paper into smaller pieces, while other consumers were given a sheet of paper and asked to evaluate the scissors without cutting the paper.
Everyone was then asked to dispose of the paper on the way out and next to the exit were two identical bins – one for recycling and one for rubbish.
Consumers recycled the whole sheet of paper more often than the smaller pieces, regardless of the total amount of paper.