BUFFALO – A specific messaging strategy used in a Public Service Announcement (PSA) video may effectively encourage New Yorkers struggling to comply with recycling to properly separate their waste from recycling, according to the results of a study from the University of Buffalo.
The researchers designed the successful video using Planned Behavior Theory (TPB), which predicts intention to act on three factors: the extent to which a behavior is considered favorable; perceived social pressure to adopt this behavior; and the perceived difficulty of the behavior.
Intention, however, does not always translate into action. Even with the best intention, sometimes people fail to recycle properly, as recycling guidelines in New York State can vary from city to city. To achieve desirable impact, environmental campaigns must take into account what people currently know about recycling, the researchers say.
“We found the PSA video to be particularly effective with audiences with limited knowledge about recycling or those who were not yet engaging in proper recycling,” says Zhuling Liu, a UB doctoral student who led research published in the journal Environment, Development and Sustainability. “When thinking about accessible messages, this strategy can be very useful. “
Recycling seems easy enough: put garbage in one bin and recyclables in another. But Americans don’t do it well. Many items end up in the wrong bin.
The National Recycling Partnership estimates that non-recyclable materials contaminate nearly one-fifth of curbside material, a problem that can force processing centers to dispose of entire loads, even though most materials are otherwise acceptable. . A policy change in China, which previously handled nearly half of the world’s recyclable materials, compounds this non-compliance. As of 2018, China’s national sword policy banned the import of recyclable waste from many countries, including the United States.
Americans generally favor recycling, as they contribute to contamination by “wish-cycling”, according to Liu.
“This pile recycling refers to the tendency to recycle anything that is considered recyclable,” says Liu. “But more often than not, this behavior increases the costs of recycling facilities which now require additional staff or expensive machinery to sort the contamination.”
These realities have limited the amount of materials accepted in some municipalities, while threatening other unprofitable recycling programs with eventual disposal.
“A variety of issues and the global shifts in the world market point to the need for a re-education effort to engage in proper retraining,” says Janet Yang, PhD, professor of communication at UB College of Arts and Science, and co-author of the study. “Our results suggest that we have found an effective tool to do this. “
For their study, the researchers asked about 700 participants, all residents of upstate New York, to complete an online survey on recycling behavior. Half of this group watched a 60-second PSA recycling video, and the other half only completed one quiz. Both groups answered questions about their attitude towards recycling, their perception of the social popularity of the behavior, and whether they find recycling an easy thing to do. The results indicate that the PSA video was particularly effective in increasing recycling intention among participants who were unconfident in their own recycling behavior.
Since the sample was limited to New York State, the results are not generalizable to the whole country. Yet the PSA video appears to be a promising tool for raising awareness and improving environmental engagement.
“This strategic communication message delivered via a video format can be particularly effective in people who perceive themselves to have a limited ability to recycle properly,” says Liu. “It’s a good start.”
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation funded this research through the RENEW Institute at UB.