Recycling as an Important Part of Environment Protection

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Environmental sustainability is a policy objective for many cities around the world, both large and small, as the world population expands, and its natural resources are depleted. Recycling is one of the primary ways cities and national governments have been promoting as a means to protect the environment and conserve its natural resources. But how do you effectively convince individuals to change their behaviors in order to increase their rates of recycling? The City of London took up this challenge as it relates to disposal of coffee cups in the Square Mile Challenge (SMC) in April 2017 with the aim of collecting and recycling over 500,000 cups in that month alone.

This essay analyzes the campaign using behavioral frameworks to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the campaign. It is important to begin our analysis by addressing the question: why do people do what they do? If we can understand this question, then we have a chance to influence behaviors. In this particular case, why do some people already recycle while other’s do not? According to Bagozzi and Dholakia, consumer behavior is driven by goals, which are either habitual or conscious. Goals are essentially end-states or outcomes individuals desire and use as reference points to regulate their behavior. Conscious goals can be classified into three buckets

  • those that are externally required of individuals, i.e. paying federal taxes so that one stays out of jail
  • those that are triggered by internal forces such as when people sustain an injury they go to the doctor to control the pain
  • those that are more deliberative which can come from both internal and external factors.

The recycling campaign is based on the 3rd type of goal as it used information to convince people to take up a new goal of disposing their coffee cups in designated recycling bin. Goals are an important starting point, but it is also important to understand why people are motivated to achieve them. A useful framework for understanding motivation is called the self-determination theory (SDT) which defines intrinsic and varied extrinsic sources of motivation. SDT also covers how social and cultural factors impact people’s sense of volition and initiative, in addition to their well-being and the quality of their performance.

According to SDT, intrinsically motivated people typically have more interest, excitement, and confidence, and better well-being driven by a sense of autonomy. Accordingly, the first group of people who the coffee cup recycling program will easily draw in are those who believe that recycling is a great way of protecting the environment and feel that it is a personal obligation to recycle. These set of people do not need a financial or material incentives to convince them to change their behaviour as they are intrinsically motivated. For individuals who are initially not intrinsically motivated, external incentives help to increase interest in the program but at the same time decreases perceived autonomy.

The external incentive in this case are the social proof of seeing others including friends participate in the program and wanting to be a part of it. The campaign also promoted reduced prices for coffee at participating coffee shop if using a reusable cup, but it does not appear that this part of the program was emphasized as the focus of the program was on the number of cups collected. While the program did achieve the target number of cups collected. Promoting the options of either recycling the coffee cups or using re-usable cups may have led to a higher overall impact. According to Paula Vicente and Elizabeth Reis (2008), giving individuals the ability to choose amongst several options gives the individuals a feeling of empowerment and autonomy and can lead them to internalize their decision.

Another framework for understanding behavior is called operant conditioning which describes learning related to behavior you engage in. Operant condition is based on the idea that that one’s behavior today is influenced by the results of previous behavior. To illustrate this, if a person hurts herself from touching an iron, the person is very likely to not want to touch the iron again in the future. In operant conditioning, there are 3 main types of reinforcements; positive reinforcements, negative reinforcements and punishment. Negative reinforcements is different from punishment in that the former involves removing a negative stimulus (you will no longer be hounded about not recycling your cup) while the latter is introducing a negative stimulus (the price of coffee for people who do not recycle their cups is increased by 2%).

In the SMC, the first 30 companies with over 500 employees to sign up for the program received free recycling collections for one year while other companies involved but did not meet these criteria still received discounted rates for their collections. This positive reinforcement was from the organizational and not the individual level. Ultimately, the behavior that the campaign sought to change is at the individual level, so the campaign should have also had additional positive re-enforcement at the individual level. For example, every individual gets a reusable cup after recycling 5 paper cups or every cup recycled the individual gets a certain number of points that can be used at any participating shops in the SMC. Overall, the SMC was a success based on achieving the goal of recycling 500,000 cups in one month.

However, there is little evidence to suggest that the campaign significantly changed the behaviors of participant going forward. In order to increase individual’s involvement in recycling in the future, the STD suggest that is important that the individuals internalize the idea that we each have an individual responsibility towards the goal which is in the case is environmental sustainability. Giving options to participants would have also helped the process of internalization since it gives participants a sense of autonomy. Also, longer term positive re-enforcements albeit partial at the individual level such as getting a percentage off on price for every N number of cups recycled increases the odds of the behavior turning into a habit.


Cite this paper

Recycling as an Important Part of Environment Protection. (2021, Mar 28). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/recycling-as-an-important-part-of-environment-protection/



How recycling can protect the environment?
Recycling can protect the environment by reducing the amount of waste that ends up in landfills, conserving natural resources, and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production of new materials. Additionally, recycling can also help to prevent pollution and the destruction of habitats, which can have negative impacts on wildlife and ecosystems.
Is recycling the most important way of saving the environment?
No, recycling is not the most important way of saving the environment. The most important way of saving the environment is by reducing the amount of waste we create.
What are the 5 importance of recycling?
1. It conserves natural resources. 2. It reduces pollution.
What are the four environmental benefits of recycling?
The most stress within families is caused by the death of a loved one or a divorce.
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