The human behaviour behind waste

The human behaviour behind waste

People will tend to like something because of what they believe in and how they see the world. Peoples perspectives and beliefs are driven by their consumption of information available to them. This information leads to them assigning a greater probability towards those beliefs being true, irrespective of “rationale” behaviours.  

In this regard, people are similar to systems and structures in that they tend to follow the path of least resistance (for example: they will be more likely to do something that is convenient to them). However, people are much more complicated than systems and the path of least resistance could be dependant on a number of factors including: monetary cost, convenience, affluence, time cost, social media feed, work, place of residence, government, education, etc..

A person who chooses to recycle or compost properly has to invest more time and effort than someone who chooses to simply throw everything in one bin. In order for them to make that choice they have had other factors and influences that have swayed their view enough to overcome that additional effort and make that conscience decision to separate, clean and dispose of waste where appropriate.

In other words, convenience and time cost were not the highest factors in their path of least resistance for this decision.  

This will work for people who consume mounting information about the benefits of that choice that their perceived view on the world is altered in that way (think of those vivid pictures showing the harms of ocean plastic). However, people who do not consume enough information about the benefits of recycling and composting will tend to place a higher importance on convenience and time cost.

Going one step up that value chain, a person who thinks about what happens to a product or packaging at the end of its life and how it affects the environment (or their taxes as some products cost less than others to recycle) will have to be educated in the intricacies of the recycling world, which can be complex. It will also draw on their time and convenience factors (for example: a pre-packaged bag of potatoes vs. bulk potatoes). Furthermore, in today’s consumer world it can be difficult and cost more to find packaging that is cost and environmentally effective.

Consequently, it is very hard to obtain mass market behaviours towards making cost and environmentally effective purchasing choices and disposing of waste properly. Even in Vancouver that has a relatively good recycling culture, it is common to see contaminated recycling and compost bins.

Alas public awareness campaigns can only go so far when dealing with the large differences in what different people rate as important factors. To truly change mass market behaviours you need to look at all factors across different groups of people in a dynamic way.