Skip to main content

Advertisement

Log in

Environmental Behavior’s Dirty Secret: The Prevalence of Waste Management in Discussions of Environmental Concern and Action

  • Published:
Environmental Management Aims and scope Submit manuscript

Abstract

Humankind and the planet face many thorny environmentally related challenges that require a range of responses, including changing behaviors related to transportation, eating habits, purchasing, and myriad other aspects of life. Using data from a 1201-person survey and 14 Community Listening Sessions (CLSs), we explore people’s perceptions of and actions taken to protect the environment. Our data indicate a striking prevalence of waste management-related actions. Survey respondents described actions and concerns related to trash, recycling, and composting as the most common environmental behaviors; similarly, participants in CLSs discussed waste-related topics, for which we did not prompt, as frequently as those topics for which we specifically prompted. Explanations for this prevalence emerging from the data include (1) the nature of waste-related behaviors (concrete, supported by infrastructure, simple, compatible with lifestyle); (2) norms and social dynamics (family interactions, feelings of belonging/participation, government policy); and (3) internal psychological processes (internalized norms and environmental concern). We also found that many waste-related discussions were relatively superficial, focusing on immediate waste-related issues (e.g., litter or recycling) rather than larger issues such as consumption. Our results may provide insight into future efforts to encourage pro-environmental behavior. Given that most pro-environmental behavior involves tasks more complex and lifestyle-changing than those related to simple aspects of waste management, we suggest focusing on the latter two intertwined categories that our data suggest are important: encouraging social dynamics and related development of norms concerning environmental behavior (category 2), and fostering internalized norms and environmental concern (category 3).

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4

Similar content being viewed by others

References

  • Ackerman F (1996) Why do we recycle? Markets, values, and public policy. Island Press, Washington DC

    Google Scholar 

  • Ajzen I (1991) The theory of planned behavior. Organ Behav Hum Decis 50:179–211

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bandura A (1986) The explanatory and predictive scope of self-efficacy theory. J Soc Clin Psychol 4:359–373

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bishop M, Gibson G (1999) Learning circles: do-it-yourself. A guide to preparing your own learning circle material. Education Resources Information Center, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, DC

    Google Scholar 

  • Bollinger B, Gillingham K (2012) Peer effects in the diffusion of solar photovoltaic panels. Mark Sci 31:900–912. doi:10.1287/mksc.1120.0727

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Burn SM (1991) Social psychology and the stimulation of recycling behaviors: the block leader approach. J Appl Soc Psychol 21:611–629. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.1991.tb00539.x

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Chan K (1998) Mass communication and pro-environmental behaviour: waste recycling in Hong Kong. J Environ Manag 52:317–325. doi:10.1006/jema.1998.0189

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cialdini RB (2007) Influence: the psychology of persuasion. Harper Paperbacks, New York, NY

    Google Scholar 

  • Cialdini RB, Reno RR, Kallgren CA (1990) A focus theory of normative conduct: recycling the concept of norms to reduce littering in public places. J Pers Soc Psychol 58:1015–1026

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cooter RD (1996) Decentralized law for a complex economy: the structural approach to adjudicating the new law merchant. Univ Pa Law Rev 144:1643–1696

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cotterill S, John P, Liu H, Nomura H (2009) Mobilizing citizen effort to enhance environmental outcomes: a randomized controlled trial of a door-to-door recycling campaign. J Environ Manag 91:403–410. doi:10.1016/j.jenvman.2009.09.010

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Darnton A (2004) The impact of sustainable development on public behaviour: report 1 of desk research. Sustainable Development Unit of the Department for Environmental Food and Rural Affairs, The Government of United Kingdom, London, UK

    Google Scholar 

  • Diekmann A, Preisendörfer P (2003) Green and greenback: the behavioral effects of environmental attitudes in low-cost and high-cost situations. Ration Soc 15:441–472

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dolan P, Galizzi MM (2015) Like ripples on a pond: behavioral spillovers and their implications for research and policy. J Econ Psychol 47:1–16. doi:10.1016/j.joep.2014.12.003

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Dunaway F (2015) Seeing green: the use and abuse of American environmental images. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Dunlap RE, Jones RE (2002) Environmental concern: conceptual and measurement issues. In: Michelson W, Dunlap RE (eds) Handbook of environmental sociology. Greenwood Publishing Group, Westport, CT, pp 482–524

    Google Scholar 

  • Ekström KM (2014) Waste management and sustainable consumption: reflections on consumer waste. Routledge, New York, NY

    Google Scholar 

  • Folz DH (1991) Recycling program design, management, and participation: a national survey of municipal experience. Public Adm Rev 51:222–231. doi:10.2307/976946

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gallup (2007) Conserving energy is Americans’ top environmental action. In: Gallup.com. http://www.gallup.com/poll/26872/Conserving-Energy-Americans-Top-Environmental-Action.aspx. Accessed 6 Sept 2015

  • Garcés C, Lafuente A, Pedraja M, Rivera P (2002) Urban waste recycling behavior: antecedents of participation in a selective collection program. Environ Manage 30:378–390. doi:10.1007/s00267-002-2601-2

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Haldeman T, Turner JW (2009) Implementing a community-based social marketing program to increase recycling. Soc Mark Q 15:114–127. doi:10.1080/15245000903154618

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Heimlich JE, Ardoin NM (2008) Understanding behavior to understand behavior change: a literature review. Environ Educ Res 14:215–237

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hornik J, Cherian J, Madansky M, Narayana C (1995) Determinants of recycling behavior: a synthesis of research results. J Socio-Econ 24:105–127. doi:10.1016/1053-5357(95)90032-2

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kaplan S, Kaplan R (2009) Creating a larger role for environmental psychology: the reasonable person model as an integrative framework. J Environ Psychol 29:329–339

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kollmuss A, Agyeman J (2002) Mind the gap: why do people act environmentally and what are the barriers to pro-environmental behavior? Environ Educ Res 8:239–260

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lavelle MJ, Rau H, Fahy F (2015) Different shades of green? Unpacking habitual and occasional pro-environmental behavior. Glob Environ Change 35:368–378. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2015.09.021

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Maxwell JA (2005) Qualitative research design: an interactive approach. Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA

    Google Scholar 

  • Mobley C (2015) What matters when explaining environmentalism at the watershed level who you are, where you live, what you see, or what you perceive? Environ Behav 47:1–27

    Google Scholar 

  • Mokdad AH, Link MW, Hu SS (2007) Where are we losing respondents? Trends in survey eligibility and participation. In: Proceedings of the sixty-second annual conference of the American association for public opinion research

  • Monroe MC (2003) Two avenues for encouraging conservation behaviors. Hum Ecol Rev 10:113–125

    Google Scholar 

  • Myers G, Macnaghten P (1998) Rhetorics of environmental sustainability: commonplaces and places. Environ Plan A 30:333–353

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Nolan JM, Schultz PW, Cialdini RB et al (2008) Normative social influence is underdetected. Pers Soc Psychol Bull 34:913–923

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Porter BE, Leeming FC, Dwyer WO (1995) Solid waste recovery a review of behavioral programs to increase recycling. Environ Behav 27:122–152. doi:10.1177/0013916595272002

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sagoff M (1988) The economy of the earth. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK

    Google Scholar 

  • Schultz PW (2011) Conservation means behavior. Conserv Biol 25:1080–1083

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schultz PW (2002) Knowledge, information, and household recycling: examining the knowledge-deficit model of behavior change. In: Dietz T, Stern PC (eds) New tools for environmental protection: education, information, and voluntary measures. National Academies Press, Washington, DC

    Google Scholar 

  • Schultz PW, Zelezny L (2003) Reframing environmental messages to be congruent with American values. Human Ecol Rev 10:126–136

    Google Scholar 

  • Schultz PW, Oskamp S, Mainieri T (1995) Who recycles and when? A review of personal and situational factors. J Environ Psychol 15:105–121

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schultz PW, Nolan JM, Cialdini RB et al (2007) The constructive, destructive, and reconstructive power of social norms. Psychol Sci 18:429–434

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Seidman I (2013) Interviewing as qualitative research: a guide for researchers in education and the social sciences, 4th edn. Teachers College Press, New York, NY

    Google Scholar 

  • Shrum LJ, Lowrey TM, McCarty JA (1994) Recycling as a marketing problem: a framework for strategy development. Psychol Mark 11:393–416. doi:10.1002/mar.4220110407

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shulman S, Deyette J, Ekwurzel B et al (2012) Cooler smarter: practical steps for low-carbon living. Island Press, Washington, DC

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Stewart DW, Shamdasani PN (2014) Focus groups: theory and practice, 3rd edn. Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA

    Google Scholar 

  • Szasz A (2007) Shopping our way to safety: How we changed from protecting the environment to protecting ourselves. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN

    Google Scholar 

  • Thøgersen J (1996) Recycling and morality: a critical review of the literature. Environ Behav 28:536–558. doi:10.1177/0013916596284006

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Truelove HB, Carrico AR, Weber EU et al (2014) Positive and negative spillover of pro-environmental behavior: an integrative review and theoretical framework. Glob Environ Change 29:127–138. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2014.09.004

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • UNEP (2013) UNEP year book 2013: emerging issues in our global environment, 10th edn. United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi, Kenya

    Google Scholar 

  • Uzzell DL (2000) The psycho-spatial dimension of global environmental problems. J Environ Psychol 20:307–318

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Vining J, Ebreo A (1989) An evaluation of the public response to a community recycling education program. Soc Nat Resour 2:23–36

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Vining J, Linn N, Burdge R (1992) Why recycle? A comparison of recycling motivations in four communities. Environ Manag 16:785–797. doi:10.1007/BF02645669

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Weber EU (2010) What shapes perceptions of climate change? WIREs Clim Change 1:332–342. doi:10.1002/wcc.41

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wester M, Eklund B (2011) “My husband usually makes those decisions”: Gender, behavior, and attitudes toward the marine environment. Environ Manag 48:70–80. doi:10.1007/s00267-011-9676-6

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Zimmerman BJ (2000) Self-efficacy: an essential motive to learn. Contemp Educ Psychol 25:82–91

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

We thank our survey and community listening session respondents for their time. We also thank the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation for generous funding of the Environmental Learning in the Bay Area project.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Rachelle K. Gould.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 28 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Gould, R.K., Ardoin, N.M., Biggar, M. et al. Environmental Behavior’s Dirty Secret: The Prevalence of Waste Management in Discussions of Environmental Concern and Action. Environmental Management 58, 268–282 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-016-0710-6

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-016-0710-6

Keywords

Navigation