Recycling Discrimination

ENVIRONMENT

What do you recycle, and what do you trash? Researchers say that “[a]fter we finish using a product, we somehow evaluate, ‘does the product still look like it could be useful?'” Tons of recyclable material—scraps of paper, dented cans, broken bottles—end up in the landfill every year. (Testing this would be a great, do-able science fair project!) (NPR)

Use our materials to understand how the choices we make impact our world.

Recent marketing research shows that people are far more likely to throw away scraps of paper and smashed cans, while recycling whole, undented materials. Photograph by Ildar Sagdejev, courtesy Wikimedia
Recent marketing research shows that people are far more likely to throw away scraps of paper and smashed cans, while recycling whole, undented materials.
Photograph by Ildar Sagdejev, courtesy Wikimedia

Discussion Ideas

  • Review the findings about how people recycle, and then read our activity “Perils of Plastic.” Follow steps 2-4 of the activity—collect recyclable trash for a week. Evaluate the recyclable material at the end of the week.
    • Are people recycling torn paper?
    • Are people recycling dented cans, broken bottles, or smashed plastics?
  • Conduct the same “Perils of Plastic” exercise with a class or other group that has not read or listened to the NPR article. Evaluate the trash collected by this group, and compare it to the first. Is their recyclable material in different shape?
    • The researcher profiled in the NPR article thinks that “the first step in changing these habits is to be aware of our bias about usefulness.” Do you agree?

2 thoughts on “Recycling Discrimination

  1. When recycling any waste materials, we should know that the every waste material collected needs to be recycled, whether be it be whole electronic waste or be it bits of paper or plastic wrappers, discriminating will never help to the cause of waste recycling process.

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