Reduce, Reuse, or Recycle? How People Perceive Different Waste Management Strategies

Author: ORCID icon
Barnett, Michaela, Civil Engineering - School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Heydarian, Arsalan, EN-Engr Sys & Environment, University of Virginia

Reducing generation of waste is far more sustainable than mitigating the impact of waste after it is already created. However, based on two nationwide online surveys (N = 1,321), this research finds a persistent and harmful preference for recycling over source reduction and reuse. Across several measures, recycling is erroneously considered as the more effective option by a significant number of participants. This error was reduced when different destinations for waste were made salient, when fewer choice options were presented, and when actions were framed generally instead of individually. In some instances, participants’ responses suggest that they do understand that source reduction is more effective—but still perceive that recycling is the least-worst option available to them. Qualitative results indicate this persistent preference for recycling may result from feelings of disempowerment to change or opt out of the dominant disposal culture. Rather than continuing to emphasize recycling as the solitary sustainable waste strategy, policies and interventions should motivate behaviors that avoid the creation of waste both at the producer and consumer levels.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
waste, sustainable production and consumption, recycling bias
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: