Recycling Encourages Wastefulness

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Recycling makes up one the the three R’s in the environmentalist mantra that includes reducing and reusing, but a recent study suggested that recycling may in fact reduce the degree to which people adhere to the other two.

An experiment was set up that supposedly tested a new style of scissors, but actually studied how wasteful people were if they had the option of a recycle bin as opposed to a trashcan. As people snipped away with their scissors, they tended to use the paper at a faster clip if they had the option to recycle.

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A follow-up experiment found that test subjects used more paper towels to dry their hands in a restroom if they had a recycling bin available.

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“The increase of consumption found in our study may be partially due to the fact that consumers are well informed that recycling is beneficial to the environment; however, the environmental costs of recycling (e.g., water, energy, etc. used in recycling facilities) are less salient,” wrote the experimenters in the the paper’s conclusions, published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

Recycling may assuage people’s feelings of guilt about wasting resources, and a justification for consuming more, continued the conclusions.

In the aforementioned mantra, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” recycling comes last, yet seems to receive the most attention. Products are plastered with the familiar triangle of arrows encouraging people to put their bottle in a recycling bin, but you don’t see too many adds telling people to simply not buy a product and be happy with what they have. Nor do you see a little pictogram showing someone turning a used plastic bottle into a plant container.

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IMAGE: Recycling bins (Terence Ong, Wikimedia Commons)