Knowing This Could Trick Us Into Recycling More

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Human brains can stutter on weird things, particularly when they're confronted with something super literal. "Giant shrimp" and other oxymorons delight us; let's not even get into sight gags. Sometimes we can hack our brains' insistence on exact meanings, including in ways that can help save money and the world.


Researchers from Penn State University and Boston College have previewed a study about what can nudge more people toward consistent recycling habits. It's easy to let recycling get vague and abstract: You know it's good for the environment, but sometimes it's single-stream and sometimes you have to sort things out, and you never know which kinds of plastic are the right ones for the bin, and anyway, it's just paper, does it really matter if you throw it away? One way around that, it turns out, is showing us what our recycled material will be recycled into.

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Study participants who saw an image of what their recyclable waste will become (a guitar, a toothbrush, another piece of paper) were significantly more likely to follow through with recycling. Not only that, but consumers who saw images of a final recycled product on packaging were more likely to buy that item than one which is just labeled as recycled. "The research team found that transformation messaging increases recycling by inspiring people to recycle," according to a press release; "in other words, getting people to think about the possibilities from transformation is the key to increased recycling rates."


If you're overwhelmed by capitalism and climate change alike, this could be a small, virtually cost-free way to encourage your household or your office to aim for a more sustainable future.