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Journal of Social Issues. Vol. 51. No. 4. 1995, pp.

157-177

Resource Conservation and Recycling:


Behavior and Policy
Stuart Oskamp
Cmremwnt Graduate School

Handling the huge amount of solid waste generated by our "throw-away society"
!s a major threat to a sustainable future. Recycling of used products is one
important contribution toward siLstainability, and social science research can
help to increase its succe,%s. Of the many varied forms of recycling, residential
curbside recycling is fast becoming the dominant form in the U.S., but it has
Been little studied. This article briefly reviews earlier research on other forms of
recycling and describes the findings of several recent studies of curbside programs, including the new commingled collection method. In addition, it summarizes a study on the growth of paper recycling by businesses, and a study of
consumers' environmentally conscious "green buying," which can help reduce
the overall amount of solid waste that is generated.
Conservation of the earth's resources is crucial to a sustainable future for
humankind, for it helps to preserve the earth as a habitat and to prevent degradation of the environment. Despite great increases in attention to this topic recently,
'he U.S. is still behind many other industrialized nations in conservation efforts.
For instance, in 1989 the U.S. recycled only 13% of its solid waste, compared to
around 60% in some West European countries (Khator, 1993).
The specific topic of this article is the problem of how to deal with solid
*aste (trash or garbage). Though problems of solid waste plague all developed
nations, they are particularly acute in the United States and Canada, as illustrated
hy the following facts;

I want to thank the many graduate students who contributed their talents tolhe studies described
" 'his paper and the city recycling officials who aided in carrying them out.
Correspondence regarding this article should be addressed to Stuart Oskamp. Psychology DeMment, Claremont Graduate School, Claremont, CA 91711.
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Oskamp

On average, each U,S, resident discards close to one ton of solid waste
each year |U,S, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 1990],
Millions of tons of U,S, solid waste have been exported to countries that
have fewer environmental safety regulations than the U,S, (Vallette &
Spaulding, 1990),
The average U,S, office worker throws out 180 pounds of high-grade
paper each year,
American newsprint use alone involves the destruction of 250 million
trees per year (one tree for every resident).
There are three approaches to resolving the solid waste problemcommonly referred to as reduce, reuse, and recycle (e,g,, U,S, EP,A, 1992), "Reduce"
means using less products in the first place (buying just the amount of perishables
that will be consumed, using minimum amounts of packaging, using materials
that arc reusable or recyclable, etc), "Reuse" means repeated use of the same
products (refiUable milk bottles, selling previously owned clothing, cars, computers, etc), "Recycling" means using the materials in discarded products to
make new products (new paper, glass bottles, aluminum cans, asphalt made with
shredded rubber tires, etc). All three of these approaches are important since
their effect is cumulative, but the earlier ones in the list have even more impact
on the amount of solid waste than the later ones (U,S, EPA, 1992), That is, the
more we reduce or reuse our purchases, the less we have to recycle, and the lei^^
the resulting amount of solid waste.
However, this article will follow past research precedents in focusing almost
entirely on recycling, which, though it is the third step in resolving our solid
waste crisis, has received the lion's share of research attention. Although 1 wili
present some information from various countries, most of the research data cited
come from the United States, where a large portion of the relevant research has
been done.
When people discuss resource conservation and recycling, they often think
of them as technological issues, involving the physical characteristics of materials, chemical and engineering processes to transform them, manufacturittg
capabilities, and so on. While recycling does have these technological aspects, it
is crucial to realize that it also involves central behavioral issues regarding the
behavior of individuals and organizations, and policy issues regarding the policies of cities, states, and nations. Consequently, it is an important topic for
research by behavioral and social scientists and by jx)licy advisors.
Why Should We Recyde?
In most areas of the U, S,, we used to just bury all our solid waste in garbage
dumps or landfills, and in some areas we burned the waste in open dumps or in
incinerators. Air quality regulations have now eliminated most open burning-

Resource Consen'ation and Recycling

159

and over 15,000 U,S, landfills have closed since 1978 (70% of the totalEarth
Works Group, 1991), In the late 1980s, the U,S, Environmental Protection
,/\gency estimated that half of all remaining U,S, landfills would reach their
maximum capacity and be closed by 1995 (Caplan, 1990), Half of the major
U,S, cities will run out of landfill space in the 1990s, In most areas of the U,S,,
tiew landfill sites are not available, except in far-distant rural areas, which necessitate lengthy and expensive transportation of trash.
Consequently, in 1989 the Environmental Protection Agency announced a
national goal of reducing landfill use, and by 1993 almost all of the 50 states had
passed laws requiring recycling in order to extend the useful life of the available
landfills (Grogan, 1993), In Califomia, the Integrated Wa,ste Management Act
^,^B 939) was passed in 1989, mandating 25% reduction of the solid waste
stream by 1995 and 50% reduction by 2000. As a result, cities and counties have
to recycle. However, there are other crucial reasons to recycle as well, including
the following major ones:
Most basic of all is the environmental ethicthe aim of preserving the
earth for future generations of humans, and of valuing all of earth's
animals and plants. One phrase that describes this goal is stistainable
development, or a sustainable society, which has been defined as one that
"meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of
future generations to meet their own needs" (World Commission on
Environment and Development, 1987).
Recycling saves natural resources (e,g,, motor oil can be re-refmed and
reused indefinitely),
Recycling saves energy in manufacturing (e.g., 95% of the energy required to make aluminum from virgin materials, 60% of the energy
required to make virgin paper, 30% of the energy required to make glass
from raw materials),
Recycling decreases pollution (in aluminum production it cuts air and
water pollution 95%; in glass production it cuts air pollution 20% and
water pollution 50%),
Due to this decrease in emissions, recycling reduces both the greenhouse
effect and acid rain,
Individuals, organizations, and cities can make or save money by recycling, and recycling stimulates new businesses and markets (Earth Works
Group, 1989, 1991),
The Wide Variety of Recycling Approaches
A first point to understand about recycling is that it takes a huge number of
<iifferent forms, depending on local living conditions, product availability, and
practices. Most people are probably aware of only a few of these

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forms, primarily the ones common in their locale, but a broader planetwide
perspective makes it essential to know about all the practicable forms of recycling and to use any of them that are appropriate to a local situation.
For instance, 20 years ago in the U,S,, the most common form of recycling
was special drives by youth or community groups to collect newspapers or
aluminum cans. In addition, some towns had drop-off recycling reception centers
where concemed citizens could take these products and also glass bottles. More
recently, curbside collection of recyclables by city crews has become common, .\
wider range of products is typically acceptable, often including various types of
plastic materials and so-called tin cans, actually made of steel. Many cities
require households to separate these materials into several different bins, bui
other areas are using a newer method, called commingled recycling, where all
recyclables are mixed together in one bin and are later separated by mechanical
and manual processes at a "resource recovery center" or "material recover)'
facility." It is common for these commingled recycling programs to include a
wider array of materials, particularly including many kinds of paper products
such as junk mail, cardboard boxes, and slick coated paper from magazines, etc.
Another form of recycling has become widespread in the ten states of the
U,S, that have passed "bottle bills," which require a refundable deposit with
every purchase of beverages in glass or plastic bottles or aluminum cans. In these
states local redemption centers in grocery stores accept the retumed bottles or
cans and refund the deposit, which can be a substantial incentive for children and
poor adults to collect and retum the bottles. In one Canadian province the depo.sil
for a large glass bottle is as high as 75 cents.
In most areas of the U,S,, city wide recycling programs are recent in the last
few years, and most U,S. citizens seem to have forgotten that during World War
II there were widespread recycling programs for these and other materials, such
as metals to be used in munitions and clothing to be reused overseas. Another
material that is starting to be recycled in the U,S, is green yard waste such as
lawn clippings, leaves, and tree branches, which can be used as mulch for plant.s
or tumed into fertilizer through compnasting. The volume of these green wastes is
very great in many suburban residential communities; it can amount to 40% or
more of the total solid waste stream. These yard wastes have customarily been
sent to landfills in many states, and in less urban areas fallen leaves have traditionally been bumed.
Most Americans would probably think that the above list of recycling methods and products exhausts the possibilities. However, some may be becoming
aware that their cities are now starting to hold special drives for the collection of
used batteries and various toxic products such as paint or solvents, and that mativ
areas have recently mandated recycling of motor oil (instead of dumping it on the
ground to leach into the underground water table, where one gallon of oil can
contaminate one million gallons of drinking waterEarth Works Group, 1989i

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161

There have also been recent govemment proposals to make industry responsible
for the safe disposaJ of toxic products that it producesan approach that has
been termed "product stewardship."
Beyond these recycling methods used in the United States, there are many
other approaches common in other countries;
In Italy, city neighborhoods have prominent drop-off bins with receptacles specially marked for many different materials, including medicines.
In the Netherlands and Sweden, widespread sets of drop-off bins include
a separate bin for clothing and fabrics.
In the Netherlands, one of the main recyclables is organic foodstuffs,
used to feed animals and produce fertilizers.
In many German cities, residents have six or more boxes in their kitchens, each for a different recyclable material.
Both German and Swedish cities have trash collection charges according
to the number of bins or bags collected, but no charge for collecting
recyclables, thus providing a financial motive to recycle.
In Swedish cities, the major recyclable material is paper and other combustibles, which are burned to produce electricity and city heat.
In Switzerland, mandatory recycling includes complex directions about
how to deposit at least 14 different types of products.
On the other hand, some European countries have hardly heard of recycling in any formal sense, and in many Third World countries individual
scavenging in trash for food or reusable materials is the main form of
"recycling."
A second point follows from the first point about the tremendous variety of
possible approaches to recycling. Policy decisions need to consider this wide
range of possibilities and choose the approach that best fits the local population
needs, resource availabilities, and manufacturing capabilities. That is a decision
for local leaders to make, but it is important for them to realize that it is in the
worldwide interest to reuse or recycle as much and as many materials as possible,
that decisions to recycle little or inefficiently should be examined from a
viewpoint that considers worldwide needs, not solely local ones.
A third point about recycling is relevant for social scientists who are doing
research and hoping to advise policy-makers on the basis of their research findings. Again because of the great variety of substances, goals, and methods
involved in recycling, research findings conceming one approach may not and
often probably will not generalize to other approaches, localities, or times. This
point has generally been overlooked in the research reviews that summarized
findings conceming recycling or other pro-environmental behaviors (e.g.,
Dwyer et al., 1993). Past social science research has produced some useful
knowledge, but much of it may be less relevant to current conditions. Two

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examples will serve to illustrate the point here. First, the interventions that were
successful in increasing recycling during short-term special campaigns (e.g.,
reminder signs or convenient collection points) may be ineffective in current
citywide curbside recycling (where publicity and convenience have already been
greatly increased). Second, the personal characteristics that have been shown to
be related to recycling behavior in sjjecial campaigns or droj>-off situations (e.g..
financial motives, or general environmental concem) may have little or no relationship to recycling behavior in current situations where recycling participation
is widespread (Schultz, Oskamp, & Mainieri, 1995).
Brief Review of Past Research Findings on Recycling
In the past 20 years or so many studies have attempted to predict or to
increase levels of recycling behavior; useful reviews have been published by
Geller, Winett, and Everett (1982) and Dwyer et al. (1993). These studies have
varied widely in the choice of variables they have u.sed to stimulate or to predict
recycling, and also in the dependent variables studied (ranging from aggregate
amounts recycled by an organization or group, to individual intentions to recycle,
self-reported recycling, orrarelyobserved recycling behavior).
Probably the most-studied variable has been the broad attitude often referred
to as general environmental concern (e.g., Dunlap & Van Liere, 1978; Weigel &
Weigel, 1978). Many studies have shown that environmental concem is related to
various persona] characteristics (e.g., being young, relatively well educated, and
politically liberalVan Liere & Dunlap, 1980). and that it in tum is sometimes
predictive of various pro-environmental behaviors such as recycling (e.g.,
McGuinness, Jones, & Cole, 1977). However, in applying psychology to f>ractical issues, it is important to study these behaviors themselves, rather than simply
studying general environmental attitudes as the dependent variable.
Environmental knowledge has also been studied as a predictor of proenvironmental attitudes or behaviors, and generally it has been found to be
positively related to them (e.g., Vining & Ebreo, 1990). As in the anitude
research literature, a crucial dimension here seems to be that the knowledge
tested should be specifically related to the behavior in question; i.e., broad and
general environmental information is less likely tiian specific relevant information to be closely related to a specific behavior such as recycling (Oskamp et al..
1991). As community wide recycling programs become more common and widely publicized, knowledge about recycling will undoubtedly become more widespread, and thus it will be less vahd as a predictor of participation in recyclingWhen pro-environmental attitudes have been used to predict specific proenvironmental behaviors, the most common finding has been a low positive
relationship. The size of the relationship is frequently affected by contextual
factors (e.g., amount of effort or inconvenience in pwrforming the behavior;

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presence or absence of rewards and/or social support for performing the behavior; degree of feelings of self-efficacy regarding environmental improvement). A
number of studies have shown that attitudes toward specific behaviors are better
predictors of those behaviors than are more general attitudes such as environmental concem (e.g., Gamba & Oskamp, 1994; Oskamp et al., 1991). Even more
useful as predictors may be individuals' specific reasons for recycling or not
recycling (e.g., desire to support a community program, lack of space for bins),
which have been studied in recent research (Gamba & Oskamp, 1994; Howenstine, 1993; Vining & Ebreo, 1990).
Some studies have investigated the relationship among various pro-environmental behaviors such as recycling, energy conser\'ation. water conservation,
carpooling, and environmentally conscious buying. Just as in the attitude area,
the results have typically shown a pattem of low positive correlations among
these behaviors (e.g., Tracy & Oskamp, 1983-1984; cf. McKenzie-Mohr, Nemitx)ff. Beers, & Desmarais, this issue). These findings lead to the rather counterintuitive conclusion that there is not a single common factor underlying these proenvironmental behaviors; in other words, people who engage in one beneficial
behavior may not engage in others. Moreover, different personal characteristics
and situational influences predict the different behaviors (Oskamp et al., 1991).
Experimental Interventions
For policy purposes, the most useful studies are ones that attempt to increase the level of recycling by using experimental interventions. Findings for
several types of interventions are summarized in the following paragraphs.
Monetary rewards for recycling have been found to increase recycling behavior. However, studies using rewards have almost always been short-term
campaigns, and when the rewards were discontinued, the behavior retumed to
previous baseline levels (e.g., Wang & Katzev, 1990; Witmer & Geller, 1976).
Moreover, in special campaigns, the cost of the rewards has often been higher
than the value of the recyclables collected, which is not a viable arrangement for
a continuing public pwlicy. However, in the public policy realm, monetary incentives are a central feature of "bottle bills," which charge a refundable deposit for
the purchase of beverages in bottles or cans. The monetary incentive embodied in
the refund has been responsible for huge increases in the percentage of retumed
containers, to levels as high as 90%, and has thereby reduced dramatically the
amount of roadside litter (Shireman, 1993).
A successful intervention in short-term experimental campaigns has been
^moving barriers to recycling by making the behavior more convenient. Examples in this category include having recycling containers close by (e.g., Reid,
Luyben, Rawers, & Bailey, 1976) or instituting curbside pickup. These approaches have also been incorporated in public policies in many communities.

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with resulting great increases in the total amount of recyclables collected (e.g.,
Gamba & Oskamp, 1994; Oskamp et al., 1996).
Many studies have used persuasive communication strategies, and these
have often been successful in increasing recycling (e.g.. Bum & Oskamp, 1986;
Jacobs, Bailey, & Crews, 1984; Spaccarelli, Zolik, & Jason, 1989-1990). One
specific example is the use of "'block leaders" to contact neighbors and encourage
recycling in their neighborhood (Bum, 1991; Nielsen & Ellington, 1983). Similarly, some correlational studies have found that the social norms established by
friends and neighbors who recycle are significant predictors of household recycling (e.g., Oskamp et al., 1991). In public policy approaches, persuasion has
often been incorporated in mailed fiyers and media campaigns for recycling, but
in-person persuasion has been much less frequently used, probably because it is
labor intensive, though it need not be expensive if it relies on community volunteers.
An inter\'ention that is based on general social psychological theories of
consistency in behavior is public commitment, in which individuals sign a statement or verbally agree to participate in a particular behavior. This approach has
usually been quite successful in short-term experimental studies of recycling
(e.g.. Bum & Oskamp, 1986; Katzev & Pardini, 1987-1988; Pardini & Katzev.
1983-1984; Wang & Katzev, 1990). Again, however, this is a labor-intensive
strategy, and it does not .seem to have been used in continuing communitywide
recycling programs.
Another technique that stems from the general social psychology literature
is goal setting, in which individuals are given or are asked to choose for themselves a goal to meet. Only two studies have applied this approach to recycling,
both successfully (Hamad, Bettinger, Cooper, & Semb, 1980-1981; McCaul &
Kopp, 1982). Though having individuals set their own goals would be a complex
procedure to in.stityte in a communitywide program, proposing goals for households or neighborhoods to reach could be a feasible and useful intervention. In
confirmation of this possibility, a survey of recycling directors in 264 cities
throughout the United States found cities that had established a goal to recycle a
given percentage of their solid waste stream repotted that they had succeeded in
recycling more than cities that had not established a goal (Folz, 1991)"f
course, this finding could also be due to greater commitment on the part of the
city, not just to the goal itself.
A final technique, which has been qtiite successful in other behavior-change
settings but has been little used in recycling research, is feedback of information
to individuals about their performance (often in relation to stated or implied
goals). One study successfully used feedback of group (aggregate) behavior in a
college dormitory's short-term campaign for paper recycling (Katzev & Mishima, 1992), and another showed that both individual hou.sehold feedback and
feedback of neighborhood perfomiance significantly increased residential curb-

Reiiource Conservation and Recycling

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side recycling (Schultz, 1995). Giving feedback on an individual basis is also a


labor-intensive technique, but presenting feedback on a group or neighborhood
basis can be quite feasible for public policy purposes.
Summary. A recent review of published experimental research on recycling
in the last 20 years (Schultz et al., 1995) found 31 studies that had experimentally manipulated conditions, and a general picture of their results has been
presented above. However, well over half of these studies involved special shortterm drives or campaigns; some focused on longer term collection of a single
material, usually newspapers; and only 6 (3 of them from our own research
group) investigated communitywide curbside recycling of multiple materials,
which is the dominant method today in much of the United States as well as
many other industrialized countries. Therefore, in the rest of this article, I will
highlight results from some recent published and unpublished studies of continuing curbside recycling of multiple materials.
Some Current Research on Community-Wide Curbside Recycling
Study I: Prediction of Curbside Recycling
After Califomia passed its 1989 law mandating that specified percentages of
the solid waste stream be diverted out of landfills, most urban and suburban areas
adopted communitywide curbside recycling programs. Therefore, an initial question of interest is how successful such programs are. To answer that question, I
and several graduate students conducted a study in a suburban city on the edge of
the Los Angeles metropolitan area (Oskamp et al., 1991). The city had a socioeconomically diverse population of over 120,0(X), about 47% white, 41% Hispanic, 7% black, and 4% Asian. We carried out our study in the late fall of 1989,
about a year after the city had initiated a voluntary, separated curbside recycling
program in which sets of special recycling pails were widely publicized and
given to all residents who requested them. We conducted approximately 20minute telephone interviews with a randomly chosen sample of 221 city residents, asking about self-reported recycling of several sorts, and a wide variety of
questions conceming other environmentally relevant behavior, attitudes, knowledge, and demographic characteristics.
In this study we found 41 % of respondents claimed to be participating in the
curbside recycling program (in comparison, the city recycling coordinator had
estimated about one-third). In addition, another 17% claimed to be recycling
some materials through different means (e.g., retuming aluminum cans for cash).
^ii orthogonal factor analysis of 23 behavioral items found that they separated
into five factors; curbside recycling, recycling for cash, water conservation be-

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haviors, energy conservation behaviors, and a factor comprising a mixture of


other environmentally responsible actions including buying behaviors. The 28
attitude and self-concept items were even more complex, separating into eight
orthogonal factors. These findings supported our hypothesis that there is no
single general factor of environmentally responsible attitudes nor of environmentally responsible behavior.
A test of variables that had predicted recycling in previous studies (most of
them involving short-term campaigns rather than continuing curbside programs)
showed only a few significant predictors of self-reported curbside recycling in
this study. Among demographic variables, having a higher household income
(roughly above $35,000), living in a single-family house, and owning one's own
home were all positive predictors of recycling. General conservation knowledge
was a significant positive predictor, but general pro-environmental attitudes were
not significantly related. However, more specific attitudes about the seriousness
of the household waste problem and intrinsic motives to recycle were significant
positive predictors. The only behavioral report ttiat predicted recycling was
having friends or neighbors who recycled. Combining the various predictors
accounted for about 30% of the variance in the major behavioral factors. A final
finding of interest was that the first three behavioral factors were predicted in
hierarchical multiple regression equations by quite different patterns of demographic, knowledge, attitude, and behavioral variables, emphasizing once again
that these pro-environmental behaviors could not be viewed as all structurally
similar nor closely related (Oskamp et al., 1991).
Study 2: Commingled Curbside Recycling
Following that study, we shifted our attention to a nearby suburb that had
been the first in the area to initiate the novel commingled recycling program a
few months before our study (Gamba & Oskamp, 1994). There, much publicity
had preceded the new collection method, and every household had been given a
single large 90-gallon wheeled bin to be used for all recyclables, including an
increased range of materials such as junk mail, cardboard boxes, many kinds of
plastics, and various metals. As a major improvement on the previous study, we
made actual observations of recycling bins being set out for pickup on five
successive occasions, instead of accepting self-reports as the criterion, and we
also estimated the amount of recyclables in the bins on the last week of our
observations. Interjudge reliability of the observations was ver>' high for both
participation and amount of recyclables.
The 603 households studied were chosen based on census data, consisting
of approximately 200 contiguous homes in each of fliree different socioeconomic
status (SES) levels; lower middle, middle, and upper middle class areas oi
Claremont, a pleasant residential suburb of Los Angeles. Though the whole city

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IS relatively prosperous, these areas are referred to hereafter as low, middle, and
high in SES (their mean family income was approximately $40,000, $50,(XX),
and $62,000, respectively). The five observations were conducted in November
and December of 1991, and immediately after the first observation all households were mailed a written questionnaire, carefully constructed following the
advice of Dillman (1978). Due to having the cover letter signed by the mayor of
Claremont and sending two follow-up mailings, a ver>' high response rate of 76%
was obtained. These questionnaires provided the variables used to predict the
obser\'ed recycling behavior, including demographics, recycling knowledge, attitudes, motivations, and related behaviors.
The most important finding of this study was that an astounding 91% of
hotiseholds participated in curbside recycling at least once of the five successive
collection days, and the average participation rate was 68% on any given occasion. These are the highest participation figures that 1 have seen reported. Based
on these observations, the self-reported rate of 99% participation was slightly
overstated; and the self-reported rate of 52% every-week participation in the
city's previous voluntary recycling program was greatly higher than the city
recycling staff's estimate of about 20%. Thus, it appears that a social desirability
effect was probably inflating the self-reports of participation, and such selfreported recycling rates in other studies should be considered with caution. The
high SES area was significantly higher in average participation (76%) than the
low and middle SES areas (each 64%). The questionnaire nonrcspondents displayed only a 50% average level of participationstill higher than typical levels
reported in the literature.
The respondents' specific knowledge about the requirements of this commingled recycling program was high (mean = 8.1 out of 9 possible items). We
asked them to rate the importance of 13 specific reasons for recycling and 9
.specific reasons for not recycling, and we factor analyzed each set of rea.sons
separately. The results showed three orthogonal factors of motivations for recycling: concem for the environment, social pressure, and financial motives; and
two orthogonal factors of motivations against recycling: personal inconvenience,
and system limitations.
Because almost everyone in this study recycled on some occasions, it was
not possible to compare recyclers with complete nonrecyclers. Consequently, we
used a less discrete criterion, comparing more frequent recyclers (4-5 occasions)
*ith less frequent ones (0-2 occasions). The significant predictors of more
frequent recycling included higher household income (roughly above $50,000), a
larger number of people in the household (3 or more), greater knowledge of both
the past and the present recycling programs, and a stronger belief in the effectiveness of recycling. Also significant as predictors were the following specific
tuotives for or against recycling; greater concem for the environment, and less
niotivation due to social pressure, financial motives, or feelings of personal

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inconvenience. When the predictors were combined in a hierarchical multiple


regression, only knowledge about the present recycling program, larger households, and higher income were significant independent predictors of frequency of
recycling (i.e., no general nor specific attitudina] variables added independent
predictive capability). Essentially, prediction of the criterion was rather weak in
this study because almost everyone recycled; very high accuracy could have been
achieved merely by predicting that everyone would recycle.
Though these data make prediction difficult, they represent exactly the sod
of result that policy makers hope for. The conmiingled method of recycling
achieved nearly 1(K)% participation, at least in this city, and a far higher level of
participation than was attained with the previous more voluntary program.
Though recycling was not mandatory in the new program, everyone received a
bin and much publicity about the program; its convenience for the householder
combined with the publicity and social pressure accompanying its introduction
were probably the major reasons for its success. Moreover, due to the high level
of participation in this program, the city reached the 1995 goal of 25% diversion
of the solid waste stream, at least for its residential areas. However, observations
showed that there was still a great deal of recyclable material being placed in the
trash bins and sent to the landfill, so there is still a large potential for greater
diversion.
Study 3: Comparison of Commingled and Separated Recycling
Three questions left by the preceding study were whether the results for
Claremont would generalize to other cities, whether the very high level of participation in Claremont would hold up over time, and whether a commingled
recychng program would really produce higher participation if compared with an
equally intensive separated recycling program in a comparable community. Indeed, there are conclusions in the research literature casting doubt on both the
continuation of high recycling levels and the superior participation levels of
commingled programs (Dwyeret al., 1993, and Folz, 1991, respectively). Study
3 was done to answer these questions (Oskamp et al., 1996).
The study was conducted in two adjacent middle class suburbs of Los
Angeles, which were highly similar economically, culturally, and demographically. In mid-1991 Claremont had inaugurated the innovative commingled system described above, while La Veme had instituted a separated program in late
1989, giving ever>' household several 12-gallon crates of different colors for
recycling of newspaper, glass bottles, aluminum and tin cans, and plastics #1
and # 2 . We observed recycling in 608 households in the same three areas of
Claremont as before, exactly two years after Study 2. In La Veme, we observed a
total of 613 households in three areas that were closely matched on several
census variables to the low, middle, and high SES ^eas of Claremont, plus an

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additional 92 high-SES households that had volunteer recycling block leaders


responsible for their respective neighborhoods. For eight successive weeks in
November and December 1993, we recorded each household's recycling participation, the quantity of each matetial they recycled (or the total amount in Claremont's commingled system), and the presence of any contamination (inappropriate materials in the recycling containers). All three dependent variables were
rated with very high interjudgc reliability.
We found tbat the extraordinarily high level of recycling in Claremont did
hold up excellently. Over the whole eight-week period, 90% of the households
recycled at least once, compared with 91% two years previously. The average
participation each week was 58%, compared with 68% on each occasion two
years before. However, in the earlier study, the recycling collections had been
made every other week, whereas currently the city was making weekly collections but encouraging residents whose bins were less than half full to set them out
only every otber week in order to avoid unnecessary' stops for the truck drivers.
The stability correlation for the frequency of recycling participation of the same
households in Claremont across the two-year period was ,45 (p < ,(X)1; households that were known to have moved during that period were omitted from the
calculation), and this figure was also undoubtedly reduced by the change from
biweekly to weekly recycling pickups.
In comparison to Claremont's 90% total participation. La Verne households
had 77% total participation over the eight weeks, and an average weekly rate of
42% vs, Claremont's 58%; both differences were significant well beyond the
.001 level. Thus it apf)ears that a commingled recycling progratn is likely to
achieve greater participation rates than a separated one in a highly similar community. However, the biggest difference was in the average quantity of materials
recycled per household per week, where Claremont's figure of 32,1 gallons was
almost six times as high as La Verne's 5,5 gallons, a difference significant
beyond the ,0001 level. Part of this difference was due to the greater number of
materials acceptable in Claremont's commingled program, but a major part of it
was probably due to the greater convenience of the commingled program. The
estimated weekly frequency of contamination was 8% of households that recycled in Claremont vs, 11% in La Verne, a nonsignificant difference, which
suggested that residents of the two cities were approximately equally conscientious in following the procedures of the recycling system.
Study 4: Increasing Residential Recycling
Following these descriptive and predictive studies, we undertook an experimental test of hypotheses about interventions that might increase recycling in a
community wide separated curbside program (Schultz, 1995), The setting was the
same 613 households in La Verne, Califomia, excluding the block leader areas.

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and the study began 4^ months after the start of data collection for Study 2.
Increasing these families' recycling was a challenging task since they already had
a high level of recycling participation (77% overall).
The approximately 200 households in each SES area were carefully divided
into five groups, such that each group was composed of small sets of contiguous
houses (to reduce diffusion of the interventions) and each group had equal baseline levels of participation in Study 3. The five groups were given five different
interventions; individual feedback of recycling performance, group feedback of
neighborhood recycling performance, information about recycling procedures
and benefits, simply a plea to recycle as much as possible, or a control condition
with no intervention. TTie plea to recycle was given to all four experimentai
groups in Week 1 of the study, on a green door hanger placed on each house's
front doorknob, within a few hours following the recycling pickup. The three
other experimental conditions similarly received their specific interventions on
door hangers during Weeks 2-5; then the interventions were discontinued, but
the recycling behavior of the households in all conditions was observed through
Week 9.
Analyses compared the nine weeks of data to the baseline data collected
about five months earlier in Study 3, with a correction for seasonal trends.
Results showed that the frequency of participation increased significantly for the
individual feedback and group feedback conditions, but not for the other three
conditions. The quantity of recyclables per participation occasion increased significantly for both of these conditions and also for the information condition.
None of the experimental conditions was successful in producing significantly
less contamination. Calculations showed that, on average, the two feedback
interventions increased frequency of participation 7% and total amount of recyclables 21%, while the information and plea-only conditions, on average, increased participation 4% and total amount 13%.
These increases in household recycling are not only significant, but could
contribute substantially to communitywide recycling performance. Though individual household feedback is labor intensive to implement, both group feedback
of neighborhood performance and general recycling information can be delivered
with relatively little investment of time and money, so they appear to be costeffective ways of increasing recycling in cities such as those we have studied.
Study 5: Paper Recycling by Businesses
All of the above studies investigated residential recycling, but residences
only account for about half of the U.S.'s total solid waste stream, with business
and industry creating the remainder. Thus an important topic to study is whai
businesses are doing about recycling, and national authorities have emphasized

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171

that the most important recyclable material, which is produced in large quantities
by almost every business, is paper (Fields, 1990). In the spring of 1992 we
conducted a study to answer the question about paper recycling by businesses,
focusing on a sample of 105 large companies that had their headquarters in Los
Angeles County (Oskamp et al., 1994). These were very large businesses that
met the financial and employee size to qualify for listing in Dun's Business
Rankings (1991), and we chose a stratified sample based on the number of
employees in the headquarters office, which ranged from 10 to 7000 in our
sample.
We conducted telephone interviews with one or sometimes several officials
of each of these companies, trying to contact the person who was responsible for
recycling, such as the recycling coordinator, office manager, or general manager.
The response rate was 85%, though some respondents were unwilling or unable
to answer all of the questions that we asked about the background and characteristics of the company's recycling program and its other environmental programs such as energy conservation or ridesharing.
The most important finding of the study was that as of early 1992, a great
majority of the companies (85%) reported that they were carrying on a recycling
program. However, nearly half of the companies (47%) had started their program
only in 1990 or later; many collected only one or two types of paper (most often
computer paper and/or white paper); and few of them (28%) used the most
convenient system of having a recycling container at every office employee's
desk. Thus, due to the partial and probably inefficient nature of most of these
programs, it was clear that there was still a great potential for increases in the
amount of paper recycling, even though 85% of the companies were making
efforts to recycle by 1992.
Study 6: "Green Buying"
Another environmentally important behavior, which is substantively linked
to recycling, is environmentally conscious buying. Buying recycled products,
such as paper, creates a market and a demand for them, while buying products
having minimal packaging makes less waste to be recycledboth valuable
goals. Despite the importance of "green buying," defined as purchasing that
considers the environmental impact of products, very little research has been
done on the topic. Therefore, I and a group of students conducted a preliminary
study to investigate people's attitudes and behavior about "green buying" (Unipan et al., 1994). We chose eight middle-class communities in or adjacent to the
west side of Los Angeles, and we sent 100 written questionnaires to randomly
chosen households in each community. We did not have funds nor time to do
follow-up mailings, nor sponsorship by any important local official such as the

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mayor, and consequently we only obtained 201 responses, 27% of the deliverable questionnaires sent out.
However, responses on the forms that were retumed presented some useful
information. No more than 30% of the respondents reported ever considering a
product's environmental impact when they purchased a particular kind of product, such as detergents or paper products. Hierarchical multiple regression analyses to predict self-reports of several different kinds of environmentally concemed buying behavior showed that the most important predictor was usually a
scale of environmentally relevant consumer beliefs (e.g., "We have a responsibility to avoid purchasing or using products that are known to be damaging to
the environment"). Consumer beliefs and female gender were significant predictors of pro-environmental attitudes, but attitudes generally did not add significantly to the scale of consumer beliefs in predicting the various green buying
behaviors. Though these findings are useful, they only begin to scratch the
surface of this important topic.
Policy Implications and Issues
Related to the topic of people's buying behavior is the issue of encouraging
greater purchase and use of recycled materials. The recycled products that are
most readily available for consumer purchases are paper products such as stationery and envelopes, but their use has frequently been inhibited by their limited
availability and higher prices. One major policy change has dramatically improved that situationnamely, the requirement adopted by many local and state
agencies and recently by the federal govemment that their agencies purchase
recycled paper products. That step alone will dramatically boost the demand for
and availability of recycled products (Van Voorst, 1993; "White House Paper
Chase," 1993).
When the pioneer companies and cities first began recycling programs, one
of the major motives was financial savings (for instance, used newspapers sold
for as much as $50 a ton, and computer paper for much more). In the early
1990s, the greatly increased supply of recyclables being collected temporarily
outran the demand (e.g., until more paper plants were converted to include deinking facilities so that they could use recycled paper). As a result, the value of
recycled materials dropped sharply, sometimes even to below zero, meaning that
cities and companies had to pay to have them accepted, rather than making
money on them. Nevertheless, collecting recyclables was still financially beneficial in comparison with typical landfill charges, which could be as high as $40
per ton of trash in Southem Califomia and over $.100 per ton in New York and
New Jersey (Schubel & Neal, 1992, p. 70). In 1995, as a result of laws such as
those mentioned above and of the construction of new production facilities that
could use recycled materials, the demand for many types of recyclables again

Resource Conservation and Recycling

173

began to exceed the supply, and cities were again able to reap financial benefits
from recycling as prices rose sharply (e.g., from as low as $20 per ton of used
newspapers to over $150 per ton in mid-1995Mowbray, 1995).
Tuming to the topic of encouraging household recycling, each of the various
forms of recycling requires somewhat different behaviors, and therefore also
engages somewhat different attitudes and motives. For instance, recycling bottles
and cans for cash is predicted by different personal characteristics than those that
predict participation in curbside household recycling (Oskamp et al., 1991). A
typical level of citywide participation in voluntary product-separation curbside
recycling seems to be about 40% of households, as in our Study 1. With heavier
publicity and distribution of recycling bins to every household, an overall participation level of 75% is achievable, as shown by our Study 3 findings in La Veme.
With the greater convenience of commingled curbside recycling, that level may
rise as high as 90% of all households (Studies 2 and 3). Programs such as these
have succeeded in diverting around 25% of the residential solid waste stream out
of landfills, the immediate goal that has been set in a number of states. With the
addition of green yard waste as a recyclable material, it might be possible to
increase the diversion figure to 50%, which is Califomia's goal for the year
2000.
Some gaps still need to be plugged in the coverage of these citywide recycling programs. Most cities have not yet extended them to multifamily apartment
complexes, because those complexes generally have their trash deposited in large
dumpsters rather than in curbside bins, and they may be served by different waste
collection companies than other residential areas. The same collection problems
are present for waste generated by commercial and industrial firms, which usually employ separate waste collection companies. Thus cities typically have little
control over the recycling of apartment complexes and businesses, and our Study
5 demonstrates that most businesses have only recently and partially begun to
actualize their recycling potential.
The success of citywide curbside recycling programs demonstrates that
govemment regulations and intensive efforts to establish community norms can
have marked effects on individual recycling behavior. Most people are cooperating with these programs, at least partially. However, our observations also
showed that a much higher percentage of the waste stream could be recycled if all
residents kept all of their recyclable products out of the nonrecyclable trash.
Probably, continuing habitual participation in recycling will improve residents'
compliance somewhat, but raising public participation and full compliance close
to the 100% level will still provide a major challenge to behavioral scientists. Our
Study 4 showed that significant increases in both participation and amount of
recycling can be attained through experimental interventions, such as ones utilizing individual or group feedback.
Broader issues of public policy are raised by the apparent success of com-

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mingled recycling programs. Though they achieve higher participation rates and
divert more of the waste stream out of landfills, they have at least two major
disadvantages. They require more labor and cost at a later stage to separate out
the commingled materials, and they produce poorer quality recycled materials
because, for instance, newspaper may get wet, and bits of broken glass, plastic,
or food are often mixed in with the recovered paper, thus creating problems in
reusing it to manufacture second-generation paper products. A cost-benefit analysis of these two collection modes would be a useful contribution to policymaking.
The California state law that motivated the current communitywide recycling programs was aimed at increasing the quantity of recycled materials, not at
improving or maintaining their qualityi.e., at reducing landfill use, not at best
reuse of materials. Beyond this short-term goal, our society should be aiming at
reducing the use of raw materialsi.e., using less materials in the first place,
not just reusing them efficiently. Individuals, organizations and businesses, and
governments can all contribute to this public policy goal by emphasizing environmentally coascious buyinge.g., avoiding excess packaging, and choosing
reusable products rather than merely recyclable ones. And social scientists can
assist the move toward this goal by beginning to investigate the relatively unstudied area of environmentally responsible purchase and use of products.
Among the important topics here are research on people's buying of used merchandise, and encouraging our society to retum to systems for reusing product
containers such as glass soft drink bottles, instead of melting them down and
remanufacturing them.
Two of the most important environmental considerations in the purchase and
use of products are their durability and their energy efficiency. Durability of
merchandise is often disregarded in our fashion-oriented "throw-away society."
and the U.S. is the most wasteful of the industrialized nations in our profligate
use of energy. With only 5% of the earth's population, the U.S. uses about 25%
of the world's commercial energy and raw materials (McCarty & Sherman,
1994). However, the earth's supplies of raw materials, fossil fuels, food, and
water are fast being exhausted by its rapidly burgeoning population, so this rate
of consumption cannot continue and must be replaced by a markedly different
lifestyle (cf. Olson, this issue). Research on purchase behavior emphasizing
product durability could utilize product ratings such as those published by Consumer Reports and other consumer groups. Similarly, research on p)eople's attention to energy efficiency requires the availability of credible product ratings such
as the federal fuel-efficiency ratings for cars and energy efficiency labels for
refrigerators. Unfortunately, both U.S. government programs and manufacturers'
product advertising have tended to deemphasize the importance of such ecological information in recent years.
The dramatic changes produced by state laws requiring reduction of the

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175

solid waste stream and federal and state regulations requiring purchase of recycled paper products demonstrate the central importance of govemment policies
in .setting and enforcing social norms. Since recycling is just one of the many
crucial aspects of environmental protection, the same govemmental pressures
need to be brought to bear on other key aspects. For instance, we must do the
following: sharply reduce the use of fossil fuels, which produce CO-> and cause
the greenhouse effect; stop the production and use of chlorofiourocarbons, which
destroy the ozone layer; and stop rain forest destruction, which alters global
weather pattems and reduces genetic biodiversity.
These are all far-reaching goals, but social science and policy research
efforts can help to accomplish them.
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STUART OSKAMP is a professor of psychology at Claremont Graduate School.


He has written textbooks on Attitudes and Opinions and Applied Social Psychology, and is the former editor of the Applied Social Psychology Annual and of the
Journal of Social Issues. He has also served as President of the .APA Division of
Population and Environmental Psychology and of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues.