The Recycling Partnership announced that it has launched The Center for Sustainable Behavior & Impact to drive measurable improvement in residential recycling behavior and mobilize household participation in the circular economy.
Each year, 15 million tons of household recyclables are lost to landfills because Americans are confused and lack confidence when it comes to recycling. The loss of 15 million tons of recyclable material is equivalent to 63 million metric tons of carbon dioxide; capturing this material would yield $834 million in landfill savings. This change will be measured through both an increased capture of recyclable material and growth in household recycling participation.
While Americans overwhelmingly support recycling with 80% saying it has a positive impact, when it comes to actually putting recyclables in the bin, one obstacle is lack of confidence. Through its inaugural Recycling Confidence Index, the center uses behavioral science to gauge consumer confidence in recycling programs and identify the drivers of these beliefs. Half of those surveyed believe that the items they recycle are made into new things, suggesting that there is room to boost recycling confidence, but 7% said they believed recycled items only rarely or never become something new. Significantly, the survey found that the highest levels of confidence exist among those who receive the full spectrum of recycling communications and support, including convenient bins, recycling knowledge and information, and motivational messages. Where there is strong communication, information and support, consumers are most likely to trust that recycling works and that their personal behaviors have a genuine impact.
The center will initially focus on three areas: deepening understanding of consumer barriers and sentiments toward recycling, scientifically testing different types of solutions to determine the most effective and scalable tactics that improve recycling behavior with different populations in the US, and creating a playbook and accompanying online tool to make best practices and key insights available to national, state, and local recycling leaders.
For its initial phase, the center is working with six launch advisors — practitioners in the fields of environmental research, behavioral science, community recycling program management and sustainability marketing — to ensure that its research practices meet the highest scientific standards, while rooted in the everyday challenges of local communities. The launch advisors are experts from:
- NYC Department of Sanitation
- Ocean Plastics Asia
- Shelton Group
- Center for Advanced Hindsight at Duke University
In less than a decade, the Recycling Partnership has supported more than a third of community recycling programs in the United States, encouraged circular packaging, invested more than $23 million in recycling facilities, and diverted more than 770 million pounds of waste from landfills. The partnership has a three-year plan that includes a target of collecting more than 1 billion pounds of recyclables each year, improved systems for hard-to-recycle items, and improving the recyclability of packaging.
“The vast majority of Americans want to do the right thing and keep their waste out of landfills. Why, then, are diversion rates so low in some areas? We have real work to do to change this, and I’m proud to be part of the effort to solve this problem, before it’s too late,” said Bridget Anderson, Deputy Commissioner of Recycling and Sustainability, NYC Department of Sanitation.