Waste Not, Want Not

The Psychology Energy and Environment Team (PEET) will be taking over the blog for this week. Each day we will post a psychology inspired post designed to get you thinking about some of the key environmental impacts covered by the Green Impact initiative. Today it is a blog about ‘Waste’, enjoy!

Waste Not, Want Not!

A common misconception about reducing household waste is that recycling it is the only way to reduce it. Even though it is true that waste is reduced enormously through our recycling habits, there is actually another, overlooked way of reducing household waste. This is dealing with waste at its source. Minimising our waste… by not having it in the first place!

Minimising waste can include buying long-life goods and light-bulbs, reusable shopping bags, rechargeable batteries. It can even be as simple as buying only the amount of clothes that we really need.  It has been reported by the DEFRA, (Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) that the management of Municipal Solid Waste in the UK is increasing by more than 3% per annum. This is because, even though recycling has been well focused on by the public and the government, waste minimisation has been fairly neglected.

Recently, there has been a growing interest in trying to understand waste and recycling behaviour from a social psychology perspective. It is suggested that theoretical frameworks could be used to better predict environmental and situational attitudes on waste behaviour. One proposed theory that seems to have found some effect is that of the Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB). This theory, created by Ajzen in 1991, provides a framework on what factors cause a person’s beliefs to turn into a behaviour or action. These factors include attitudes, subjective norms and perceived behavioural control.

A study done by Tonglet, Philips and Bates in 2004 aimed to investigate the role of TPB in understanding household waste and recycling behaviour. The experimenters observed the waste and recycling behaviour of over 250 households for a period of 4 months. During this time, households were asked to fill out questionnaires based on their beliefs about waste and recycling. The results of the study found several factors that predicted how much households recycled or wasted. A concern for the community as well as previous experience with recycling was correlated with high levels of waste minimisation. Whilst lack of time and knowledge were correlated with low waste minimisation.

This study, along with many others done on the TPB, suggests that our behaviour towards waste and recycling is impacted by awareness, experience and education. This means that if we want to deal with the waste problem, we need to raise a maximum amount of awareness in as many ways possible. If recycling and reducing waste is just a question of experience and habit, then it shouldn’t be too difficult to get individuals and households to start doing their part in helping our planet.

These results are also quite a relief for us Green Impact members… it means we’re doing something right with the work we’re doing!


Here's some other posts you might want to read!

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