Are You Recycling Properly?

How recycling bias affects us daily...

compost bags

By Jane Kim, '16,  Major: Communications, Sustainability Communications Intern

One of my childhood memories relating to disposing of trash was seeing cartoon characters crinkling up sheets of papers after frustration and tossing it in the trash bin. It looked fun and refreshing. It also made sense to me that they would throw the paper out in the trash because it was crinkled up already. Crinkled paper is not useful. So it is probably not recyclable right? Or is it?
The "How Recycling Bias Affects What You Toss Where" podcast by NPR informs the audience about a recycling bias that many people seem to have. Researchers Remi Trudel and Jennifer Argo at BU conducted studies to understand and develop a theory about why people throw out certain recyclable material into the trash and other recyclable material into the recycling bin. Their experiments showed that human participants threw out fragmented papers and disfigured cans into the trash. Trudel and Argo believe that this pattern in behavior is due to the way how people use heuristic technique to determine how useful a product is. People view dented cans and small bits of paper as being useless, and incorrectly assume that those materials cannot be recycled.
Two billion tons go into the trash yearly and thirty percent of that trash consists of paper that could have been recycled. When we are more conscious about proper recycling, we can make a big change in saving the environment. It starts with knowing what things can be recycled and that recyclable material altered in shape is just as recyclable as a 'useful' looking material. An interesting idea that was suggested in the podcast was to have big red frowny faces on trash bins for people to think for a second longer before misplacing recyclable material into the trash.
What do you think will be effective in reversing this bias? How do you feel about the red frowny face idea?
Comment below!

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