We Probably Won't Recycle Shredded Paper

Scientific American

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If something looks like trash you are more likely to trash it. Even if it has value—such as recyclable items like aluminum cans or torn paper. That’s according to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research

Volunteers were asked to evaluate a pair of scissors. Some were told to cut up sheets of paper. The others were instructed to examine the scissors but to leave their sheets of paper alone, uncut and intact. All of the participants were asked to discard the paper as they left the room.

At the exit sat two identical trash bins, one labeled for recycling, the other for trash. And the people who shredded the paper were less likely to toss it in the recycling bin than those who were left holding the pristine sheets.

In another experiment, participants were less likely to recycle aluminum cans that were crumpled than empty cans still in good shape.

More than two billion tons of trash gets tossed away every year around the globe. Figuring out how people think about what they’re going to discard should help the effort to squeeze more use out of less stuff. 

—Christie Nicholson

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.] 

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