Despite the impact of the covid pandemic, many view environmental degradation as the greatest threat to our world (PEW Research Center). With global average surface temperatures increasing, shorelines are rising, extreme weather patterns are more common, and our oceans and ecosystems are being irrevocably damaged. Every year, over 10 million tons of plastic are dumped into our oceans and over one million marine animals are killed due to plastic pollution (Plastic Oceans). This issue could be easily avoided if everyone made a conscious effort to recycle plastic waste. In addition, food waste is a significant environmental problem. According to the USDA, “In the United States, food waste is estimated at between 30-40 percent of the food supply.” When food is not composted and ends up in landfills, it releases methane. Coupled with food loss, this causes 8% of greenhouse gas emissions (World Resources Institute). Food waste, especially in America, has been increasing with the rise of the Coronavirus. Thus, not only are people failing to recycle plastic debris at alarming rates, but we, as a society, are wasting more and more food, which wastes energy and leads to increased greenhouse gas emissions.
Psychology Underlying the Problem Behavior:
One reason environmental sustainability is not a norm for all people is because we have developed improper habits of food disposal. We, as a nation, need to break this improper habit of incorrectly disposing our foods. Habits are settled tendencies, especially ones that are hard to give up. Habits control 40-95% of everyday human behavior (Helping You Engineer Your Future). There are three aspects of a habit, the reminder or environmental cue, the routine, and the reward.
Currently, the norm of most humans is to plainly throw away materials into the trash bin all together, with the negligence of truly thinking about recycling. This needs to change. Social norms are accepted standards of behavior and actions that people perform. Changing the current norms of careless disposal of waste into thoughtful, passionate behaviors that are conducive to a healthy environment is paramount.
Intervention and Psychological Foundations:
One way we can help people form a new habit is by removing friction. Our solution is through placing proper waste bins throughout communities. Many of us are not even fully aware of what can be recycled versus what cannot. In fact, six percent of people are not sure about what is recyclable and what is not (HuffPost). Installing more intuitive garbage receptacles will have major impacts on community wide recycling efforts. Dispersing large bins around big communities, like schools, for example, that also incorporate pictures to illustrate what type of items can be thrown away, recycled, and composted, will be extremely helpful in changing the poor norms and habits that humans follow.
Alternatively, another way to make food disposal more environmentally sustainable is through both, breaking habits by changing environmental cues, as well as altering norms. More specifically, we are going to put up signs that state that “68% of Americans believe recycling is the right thing to do” and “94% of Americans indicate they recycle.” These are the types of sayings that will persuade an audience to engage in the action. Why? Psychologically, the people almost feel guilty, which they should, if they do not recycle properly. This is because they are constantly reminded every day when seeing signs that catch their attention.
Are you concerned about the environment, too? If so, what do you think is the biggest issue?
What little things do you think you could do to help protect our environment?
What facilities does your government provide to help you recycle? Should these facilities be upgraded?
Here is our works cited.