Why don’t we recycle all our reusable trash?

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

trash dump
Landfill garbage dump in Staten Island, New York.

According to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, over 75% of waste is recyclable, but we only recycle about 30% of it. The rest of the trash just piles up in landfills and gives non-recyclers a bad, dirty, and wasteful reputation. Plenty of people know that recycling is good for Earth, so what is stopping everyone from using that blue bin more? Well, researchers from the University of Alberta (U of A) says it’s because we are hardwired that way.

Jennifer Argo, a professor from U of A, explains that our brains have trouble viewing any reusable waste that’s not in one whole piece as recyclable. For example, participants in her study were more likely to throw strips of paper in the trash, simply because it’s not a whole sheet. They also threw away dented aluminum cans because they weren’t perfect. This simple misconception means more recyclables are being thrown away! “People see it as a damaged good that is not useful anymore in any way—what can you do with a crushed can?” Argo says. “If the can came to you crushed and you had to make the decision, our research shows that it’s going in the garbage.”

How can we get people to think differently about these objects? Make them think outside of the box! “We gave one group of participants a small piece of paper and asked them to do a creative writing task and just tell us what this paper could be useful for,” said Argo. “As soon as they did that, 80% of the time it went into the recycling. It was an automatic flip that it became useful to them again.”

It’s important to be aware of our trash. If you don’t recycle much, it’s never too late to start. If you’re an avid recycler, I commend you! Just be aware that if it’s broken, torn fragmented, or dented, it can still be recycled!

Featured image courtesy of epSos on Flickr.