Does Recycling Make You Consume More?

A lot of eco-minded people will avoid purchasing items that they know will end up in the garbage. But do they react in the opposite way when consuming items that can be recycled? That seems to be the indication from a study published recently in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

The research was conducted by Jesse Catlin, an assistant professor at Washington State University Tri-Cities, and Yitong Wang, an assistant professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. They conducted two experiments to find out how much paper people used if they had the option to recycle their waste. The studies were partially funded by the Newkirk Center for Science and Society, which focuses on issues such as health, environment, community and quality of life.

In the first experiment, two groups of graduate students who did not know the nature of the study were given the task of evaluating a pair of scissors by cutting up as much paper as they could, then disposing of the paper. One group had a waste basket for that part of the task, while the second group had both a wastebasket and a recycling bucket. The group that had an option to throw their waste out in a recycling bucket chopped up nearly three times as much paper.

In the second experiment the researchers staked out a men’s restroom for 30 days and monitored how many paper towels were used. For the first 15 days of the experiment the restroom only had a waste basket. For the second 15 days, they added a recycling bin. The amount of paper used per person during the second 15 days was 14 percent more.

The researchers calculated that the restroom would use 12,500 more paper towels per year in the second scenario.

The researchers also asked their undergrads who conducted the scissor experiment to fill out a questionnaire about their “green” behaviors. They linked the answers with previous studies that showed how people who try to behave in an eco-friendly manner often trade off and rationalize their behavior, such as saying it is okay to do a non-green thing because something else they do balances it out. In this case, they concluded that the people in the experiment used the recycling option as a way to allow themselves to use more waste because it was going to be recycled.

As the authors write, “we propose that the ability to recycle may lead to increased resource usage compared to when a recycling option is not available.” They say their paper has potential implications for further research and for policy-making, such as whether or not recycling should be available in certain situations.


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Denise Morley
Denise Morley2 years ago

Hmm food for thought, thanks

Doug G.
Doug G.2 years ago

Recycling in the US is more of a "feel good" than anything else. There is little consideration by many about the initial consumption of items, which is where the real costs to the environment come into play. Recycling cardboard, for example, may cut down on landfill space but the damage done to the forests to get the cardboard in the first place often isn't considered, nor all the fossil fuel used in the entire process.
The whole paradigm of consumerism needs to be questioned, but society isn't willing to really look at that issue, because it would require significant modification of people's habits, which most are unwilling to do.

Val M.
Val M.2 years ago


Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra2 years ago

Thank you Megan, for Sharing this!

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W.2 years ago

thank you

Debbie Crowe
Debbie Crowe2 years ago

I don't waste more just because I recycle!

Bill K.
Bill K.2 years ago

i've had a lot of people excuse their waste by saying they're going to recycle

Ernie Miller
william Miller2 years ago

Thanks but I dont think using random people like that will tell you the true facts. People that recycle because they want to will also cut back in other ways.

Nicole Bergeron
Nicole Bergeron2 years ago

No. It makes one more aware of how much they use and hopefully in ways to cut back. Just because one study group did that doesn't mean everyone is like that, the ones in that group could have be people who consume more to begin with.

Vicky P.
Vicky P.2 years ago

No, I don't believe it does, why would you consume more based on the fact that you recycle