Product transformation messages inspire recycling
The research, published in the Journal of Marketing, comprised six studies to test if product transformation salience (promoting how recyclable waste will be transformed into new products) can increase recycling rates.
In the first study, participants were asked to dispose of some scrap paper. Participants who saw a recycling message involving recycled material being transformed into the same product (paper: 80.5%) or a different product (a guitar: 79.1%) recycled more than participants who saw a generic recycling message that did not involve product transformation (50.9%).
The second study found that participants who saw advertisements identifying products made from recycled plastic were more likely to recycle (87.7%) than those who viewed advertisements for products that only mentioned that the company engaged in recycling practices (71.7%).
The third study compared three messages to confirm that transformation salience increases recycling even when no specific product output is identified from the transformation (ie, simply telling consumers that recycling gives recyclables a new life). The research team found that transformation messaging increases recycling by inspiring people to recycle — in other words, getting people to think about the transformation possibilities is the key to increasing recycling rates.
The final three studies were conducted in the field.
Firstly, a Google Ads campaign was run for a jeans recycling program, which generated a click-through rate of 0.26% for the product transformation advertisement versus 0.18% for the advertisement not emphasising product transformation.
In the next study, conducted before a university football game, tailgating fans recycled 58.1% of their waste after being told what products could be made from recyclables, whereas those receiving a traditional recycling message about what could be recycled only recycled 19% of their waste.
Finally, the team audited two university residence hall waste collection stations. On the product transformation salience floor, when the signage included products made from recyclables, 51.5% of the material headed to the landfill could have been recycled, whereas 62.9% of the material in the control floor’s landfill bin was recyclable, suggesting that the transformation message led students to place more of their recyclable material in recycling bins instead of the landfill bin.
“This research has important implications for companies and organisations seeking to increase recycling rates,” said study co-author Karen Page Winterich. “These studies provide compelling evidence that when consumers consider that recyclables are transformed into something new, they recycle more.
“Increasing transformation salience among consumers should be a priority for any organisation seeking to increase collection rates. Increased recycling offers not only societal and environmental benefits, but also provides the source materials companies need for sustainable production of goods in a circular economy,” she explained.
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