Recycling presentation


Welcome and structure

Hello my name is Emma and today I'll be presenting a review of the factors and theories for explaining household recycling behaviour in the UK.

In terms of structure I'll start by providing some context as to why study in this field is important and why I have chosen to focus on household recycling behaviour in the UK specifically. 

I will then give a bref overview of the literature and explain the reasons for the selction of the factors discussed and how they have been grouped before comparing popular theories for explaining household recycling behaviour in the UK with a slightly newer concept known as goal framing theory. 

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Solid waste management strategies

Solid waste management challenges are becoming more prevalent globally as a consequence of rapidly increasing populations and high consumption cultures where products used only have short and linear life spans before being thrown away.

Traditional forms of waste management such as landfill are not seen as a preferable strategy in many countries since there is high pressure on land availability and a worry about the contribution of landfill sites to greenhouse gas emissions. 

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Recycling as a solution

Recycling is therefore being seen as an increasingly popular and more sustainable waste strategy as shown by the inclusion within the waste hierarchy of the EU waste directive where it sits above disposal as a prefered solution.

As part of the EU, the UK is obligated to follow the waste directive and currently has national recycling targets in place such as to recycle 50% of household waste by 2020.

Local authorities are primarily responsible for collecting household waste and therefore for meeting these targets however the success of any recycling programmes they implement is very dependent on public support and participation.

There is often good incentive for local authorities to encourage recycling since landfill tax has been continually increasing, however the extent to which households recycle is fairly voluntary. 

Recycling performances between recycling areas currently differ hugely between 14% and 65% of household waste recycled which illustrates the need for research into what can be done to increase successful participation in the most cost-effective way. 

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Literature overview

In terms of the literature exploring recycling behaviour there is a large field of multi-disciplinary sometimes contradictory studies and the results appear to be very much dependent upon the methodology they use and where research is carried out. 

Some complexity in results might almost be expected since several authors have suggested human behaviour is influenced by a range of interrelated factors however it hasn't helped consistency in the literature that behavioural factors have often been given broad or vague definitions and studies have used different combinations. 

The framework for analysis adopted here was taken from Barr et al 2001 which seems to be a fairly comprehensive set of categories including environmental attitudes, psychological and situational variables. 

Demographic variables are not discussed much here since although many earlier studies attempting to use these to profile recyclers and non-recyclers, any relationships found between factors such as gender and education were found to be weak. 

In their 1980 study Van Liere and Dunlap did find age correlated negatively with recycling behaviour however this was attributed to the younger participants being part of the first generation to have grown up with environmental issues being more prevalent in the media and in their school education. Environmental concern is now likely to be more spread over generations and in 1995 Schultz et al suggested demographic studies pre-dating the 90s should not be compared to studies after this as the contexts are very different.

Two of the most popular theories applied to explaining recycling behaviour have been the theory of planned behaviour and the theory of altruism which both have support in the literature however both also have limitations to their usefulness in different contexts.

The literature has continued to expand and new novel approaches such as goal framing theory by Lindenberg and Steg may be more flexible to a variety of situations. 

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Environmental attitudes

Early behavioural models were often linear with attitudes influenced by knowledge being the only predeterminants of behaviour.

Attitudes were described as strong predictors of behaviour by Wicker in 1969 and there is some agreement that positive general environmental attitudes can result in recycling behaviour for example in a 2017 study by Nguyen and Lobo who suggested individuals recycle because they believe their action will contribute to wider environmental protection. 

However this has not been the case in every study such as in Oskamp et al 1991 and in Vining and Ebreo 1990 where no difference in the strength of environmental concern was found between recyclers and non-recyclers. 

This could be due to individuals showing their environmental concern in different ways by undertaking some pro-environmental behaviours but not others which might suggest that attitudes specific to recycling may be better predictors of recycling behaviour.

However there are still several limitations to attitudes for explaining behaviour as shown by Dunlap et al 1993 also suggested that concern is only a motivator when basic economic needs are met.

In Wicker 1969 attitudes could only explain 10% of behavioural variation

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Psychological variables

When attitudes are particularly strong, they can be internalised into personal norms which according to Hopper and Nielson when upheld by an individual can create positive emotions such as pride whereas to ignore or go against personal norms can lead to feelings of guilt.

However societal factors can cause individuals to act differently to their individual beliefs. This suggests that where recycling is part of a social norm, those who are more senstitive to societal factors may be more likely to recycle whether their personal norms dictate they should or not. 

Oskamp et al in 1991 found that participation was higher in households where individuals knew their friends and family also recycled and Vining and Ebreo in 1989 found social pressure was often reported as a strong reason for recycling.

Vining and Ebreo, 1990 suggested this effect would be more powerful in situations where behaviour is more on display to peers such as in the context of curbside recycling schemes however the impact social norms can have is very dependent on how collectivist a community or culture is. 

Other studies have suggested that other contextual variables may be more important to a decision making process. 

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Situational variables

Convenince has been highlighted as incredibly important for the success of any recycling programme and inconvenience was one of the most frequently given reasons for not recycling..

Curbside collection has been promoted by many studies as a successful way to increase recycling performance since it decreases the commitment needed by households in terms of time and money to take part. 

Duggal et al also found that higher frequencies of collection increase community recycling rates although alternating collection with the general waste collection might have a similar effect on recycling as household may attempt to recycle more to save space in their general waste bin.

This would especially true in local authority areas where councils refuse to collect waste in excess to the main bin. 

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Communication has also been emphasised as of high importance for encouraging participation as the more information a person has the more likely they are to recycle although information about how to recycle may be more effective than messaging to change recycling attitudes and beliefs because in many cases indivdiuals do not act to the detriment of the environment intentionally.

Having a nationally agreed recycling programme would go a long way to reduce confusion over what can and cannot be recycled however this goes beyond the power of local authorities to implement. Accepting a narrower range of materials and focusing publicity of these may also reduce public confusion and the risk of contamination however Thomas also conceded that for recycling targets to be met households would need to learn to participate in more complicated schemes. 

Ensuring that changes to recycling programmes are not made too regularly would help since for a time the longer schemes are in place the larger the proportion of waste recycled by households indcating they become more comfortable with how to make full use of the facilities available. 

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Theory of planned behaviour

The theory of planned behaviour is a multi-attribute model produced to improve upon the failure of simple linear attitude-behaviour to explain behaviours. It incorporates a wider range of the factors discussed such as the influence of social norms and some consideration of situational variables through the idea of perceived behavioural control which is how easy or difficult an individual belives an action might be. 

There is a lot of support in the literature to support the theory including in Kaiser and Gutscher 2003 where the variables used in the theory explained 81% of the variation in behavioural intention of recyclers.

However the basis of the theory is that decisions are made entirely rationally in a form of a cost benefit analysis and it therefore has limited power in explaining behaviour where there is a high cost to individuals but they engage in recycling behaviour anyway. 

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Schwartz' theory of altruism

Schwartz's theory of altruism has proved to be popular in explaining behaviour where there is a high cost to an individual and it wouldn't make sense to carry out a behaviour from a cost-benefit analysis point of view.

Instead the theory suggests individuals are aware of and feel responsible for the consequences of their actions leading them to act in a self-less way.

There is also a lot of support for the idea that recycling is the result of a moral decision as in a study by Thomas in 2001 and by Guagnano et al i 1995 where it was found awareness and personal ascription of consequences significantly impacted recycling behaviour.

However like the theory of planned behaviour it has little consideration of situational variables and therefore may not be applicable in every context. 

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The theories are both clear improvements on the earliest linear behavioural models since they have incorporated more of the factors shown to influence behaviours, however there are still many factors that are not considered at all.

Perceived behavioural control has also been found by some to not add any explanatory power to some behavioural models which indicates that it does not effectively translate the important influence of situational variables. 

Davies et all suggested that a new more integrated model might be needed to explain recycling behaviour. 

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Goal framing theory

Goal framing theory is an approach that considers three overarching goals or motivations to influence the decision making process including a hedonic goal which is to make yourself feel better, the gain goal - a desire to conserve or improve your resources and the normative goal where you want to act appropriately. 

The goal that is most dominant is called the goal frame but the others can strengthen or weaken its influence. 

Situational variables are considered by the inclusion of smart norms where as part of the normative goal to act appropriately individuals search their memories for knowledge and experience and their environment for clues on how they should behave.

Goal framing theory might explain why making recycling programmes convenient is so important since reducing costs such as time might prevent the gain goal from becoming dominant and allowing the normative goal to guide decision making. 

Steg et al expanded on the theory by suggesting that personal values especially Biospheric values influence which goal frames become dominant too and overall since the theory considers the influence of situational variables, it should have better explanatory power in a wider range of contexts. 

The biggest limitation is its relative newness since few studies have tested it 

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In conclusion decisions on engaging in pro-environmental behaviours such as recycling appear to be complex and influenced by a whole range of factors including environmental attitudes, psychological factors and situational factors. 

In the UK where household have access to curbside programmes reducing personal costs- the theory of planned behaviour doesn’t seem very applicable.

And since recycling is a social norm and environmental awareness is overall fairly high, the theory of altruism also cannot explain recycling performance differences between local authority areas.

Goal framing theory may offer more theoretical flexibility for explaining recycling behaviour in a variety of contexts since it considers how both personal values and the context of a decision affect the goal frame/ main motivation of a decision. 

However as it is a relatively new theory there is little empirical evidence to attest to its usefulness and there is also a lack of study into recycling behaviours in other contexts aside from at residences and some inside offices. 

Further research is needed to investigate motivations for recycling in other  environments such as in recreational areas in order to test how universally applicable goal framing theory could be.

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Harewood estate

The focus of my dissertation will therefore be on investigating the factors influencing behaviour in a non-residential area and I have been given the opportunity to use the Harewood estate in West Yorkshire as a case study. 

The estate currently has no visitor recycling facilities and would need the support and participation of its visitors for the waste management to be cost-effective,

The managers have agreed to install some recycling facilities around the estate and I am then planning to design a questionnaire to investigate reasons for the use or lack of use by visitors to be able to inform recommendations to increase participation. 

I will also use this as an opportunity to test whether situational variables and biospheric values explain self-reported recycling the most in a different context to household recycling to see if goal framing theory is applicable. 

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Thank you for listening

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