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Oke, A. Reframing Recycling Behaviour through Consumers’ Perceptions. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 19 June 2024).
Oke A. Reframing Recycling Behaviour through Consumers’ Perceptions. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed June 19, 2024.
Oke, Adekunle. "Reframing Recycling Behaviour through Consumers’ Perceptions" Encyclopedia, (accessed June 19, 2024).
Oke, A. (2021, December 18). Reframing Recycling Behaviour through Consumers’ Perceptions. In Encyclopedia.
Oke, Adekunle. "Reframing Recycling Behaviour through Consumers’ Perceptions." Encyclopedia. Web. 18 December, 2021.
Reframing Recycling Behaviour through Consumers’ Perceptions

Recycling behaviour is different across contexts due to many disparate factors underlying people’s waste generation and recycling behaviours from one context to another. According to the findings, buying and consumption behaviour and waste generation patterns influence the way consumers engage in recycling. 

recycling behaviour consumption patterns facilities waste management

1. Introduction

Waste production is critical in achieving a circular economy (CE) and sustainability [1][2]. This is evident in the number of studies on recycling behaviour across many disciplines [3][4]. According to meta-analyses of studies on recycling [3][5][6], the common trend is to attribute recycling behaviour to the effects of psychological factors, such as attitudes and identity. However, consumers are inconsistent across contexts when engaging in recycling [7][8], undermining the effects of psychological factors on recycling behaviour. Moreover, most of the available studies fail to guide employees on how to engage in pro-environmental behaviours [9], especially recycling behaviour in their workplaces [10]. Despite the plethora of studies on recycling [11], our knowledge of recycling, especially across contexts [3][12] and how to promote recycling, is in constant flux [12][13]. According to Kollmuss and Agyeman [14], the question of “Why do people act environmentally and what are the barriers to pro-environmental behaviour?” is extremely complex, and a single explanation is not feasible.
The complexity of recycling has been highlighted in previous studies [3][13]; however, this study is not an attempt to diagnose the issues associated with previous studies; instead, it seeks to explore why consumers engage in recycling by understanding their perceptions. Specifically, the study is designed to understand whether recycling is context-specific and, if so, why recycling behaviour varies across contexts. In the UK, there is a significant disparity in the way recycling at home and work is set-up, based on the UK legislative requirements [4]. There is therefore a need to establish whether recycling considered as an established behaviour in the home [15] translates to work settings [10][16]. The rationale is to offer a more logical and robust explanation of recycling behaviour by identifying motivations and barriers through the lens of consumers as they evaluate and interpret their actions. By using consumers’ insights to explain recycling behaviour as anticipated in this study, there is an opportunity for waste planners and policymakers to design effective waste management strategies and recycling schemes [10], including how they are marketed to consumers.

2. Literature and Theoretical Underpinning

Recent efforts have resulted in many interventions and theoretical models [5][17] to understand recycling behaviour. Theories, such as Ajzen’s [18] Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB) and Schwartz and Howard’s [19] Norm Activation Model (NAM), have been adopted in many studies to explain recycling behaviour. For instance, attitudes, perceived behavioural control, intentions, subjective norms, monetary incentives, and knowledge are linked to recycling behaviour [4][5]. Another factor often associated with recycling behaviour is commitment, although the focus of research has been on householders’ commitment to recycling at home [5][6]. Nonetheless, studies [3][4][5] have shown that individual commitment, through goal setting and feedback, is more effective than group commitment in enhancing recycling behaviour. In organisational settings, however, organisations can demonstrate their commitment to recycling by installing correct facilities, making recycling easy for their employees to perform [8][10].
While previous individual studies have identified factors that might explain recycling behaviour, there is no consensus among them about the determinants of recycling behaviour [3][13]. The lack of consensus is partly due to different methods, contexts of investigation [8][10], and the interdisciplinary nature of research efforts [11]. This disparity in methodological approaches and research findings means that there is still great difficulty in explaining recycling behaviour with clarity [3][4].
While behavioural models/theories are instrumental in recycling behaviour [4][6][11], many of the available models are limited in their practical implications and contributions. According to Osbaldiston [20], theoretical models can only explain a moderate variance in effect sizes of conservation behaviour. In addition, most pro-environmental behaviour models assume that people are rational and fail to account for individual, social, and institutional constraints, especially in organisational settings [10][21].
Consequently, there is no consensus in the literature about the motivations for recycling behaviour [3][9], and many interventions in changing recycling behaviour have outcomes that are mostly short-lived [5]. Additionally, it is not established whether recycling behaviour is context-specific, given that cross-context studies are extremely rare [7][8].

3. Development and Findings

The findings of this study suggest that the feelings and personal accounts of consumers are fundamental in designing and promoting recycling schemes. This underlines the need for researchers and waste management professionals to expand the range of motives for recycling beyond the measures of consumers’ personal and psychological traits. According to this study, recycling behaviour cannot be addressed in silos without understanding the consumption patterns and waste production behaviour, including the available recycling opportunities. Although previous studies have attempted to segment consumers’ green behaviour using consumption patterns [22], the intersection between green and consumption behaviours is blurred. However, many factors, such as commitment, responsibility, time, and accountability, emerged strongly as contributors to recycling behaviour. Additionally, opportunities (with regard to options and facilities) to perform recycling are fundamental and often shape a consumer’s decision-making process in whether to engage in recycling.
Considering the number of recycling initiatives globally and the accumulation of knowledge on recycling [11][17], there are opportunities to develop a resource-based economy through research findings. However, studies on recycling are interdisciplinary with mixed findings [3][4] such that any attempt to associate recycling behaviour to a single explanation without understanding consumers’ accounts can be misleading. While this study supports the existing literature, such as [21][23][24], it further shows that a context where people spend more time affects their consumption and consequently recycling behaviour.
The lack of time to engage in recycling, particularly in organisational settings, is an important factor to consider when explain recycling behaviour. Although personal commitment is required to participate in recycling, factors (such as recycling facilities and their proximity) that increase the time cost of recycling may serve as barriers to recycling [5][25]. The time cost of recycling is not an issue at home compared to work settings, given that people have the liberty to set up and arrange recycling facilities at home according to their personal needs and requirements. The ability to set up and arrange recycling facilities at home might be due to the perception of control over recycling and a sense of responsibility towards waste they produce in their private settings at home. Consistent with Schwartz and Howard [19], this study shows that consumers’ awareness of the consequences of materials influences how they ascribe responsibility for their treatment based on consumers’ personal norms towards recycling. While moral obligations influence whether consumers accept recycling responsibility, the waste generation context, whether private or public, affects consumers’ recycling behaviour.
Consumption patterns are another important factor that should be considered when explaining recycling behaviour. According to the findings of this study, consumption behaviour is restrictive at work, due to job functions and organisational policy, and affects waste generation, including recycling behaviour. Recycling at work is mostly driven by organisational policy [4][26] and commitment through the provision of facilities including their availability, convenience, and accessibility. The level of organisational support may facilitate the degree to which people at work feel a sense of personal commitment, accountability, responsibility, and control [10][25]. According to this study, organisations including governments should commit to recycling in moving from waste-focused thinking to a resource-based sector and CE.


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Update Date: 20 Dec 2021
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