Friday, December 21, 2012

Something New, Under the Sun

This makes perfect sense.  But it never occurred to me that it would be true.  Very interesting.  People feel bad about "wasting" resources (killing trees) when they use paper.  Of course, that's like feeling bad about eating corn, or beets, or squash, or (fill in other plants here), since trees are just plants and we can grow more.  So the whole "don't kill trees" thing is pretty dumb.

Nonetheless, to continue.  SINCE people (rightly or wrongly) feel bad about wasting trees, they self-control their actions, and conserve.

But....if the opportunity to recycle presents itself--given that the market to recycle used paper towels is so efficient--not--people drop the self-regulation and use lots more paper!  It's as if they say to themselves, "Since I'm recycling it, I'm not really wasting it, and I can use all I want!"  (MORE AFTER THE BREAK!!)

In fact, I bet they think it creates jobs, because we pay all the recyclotrons to do the recycling.  (Broken window fallacy lives in the recycle box! Who knew?) Unfortunately, recycling consumer-level paper towels wastes far more resources than it saves, so recycling actually costs us twice.  Not only does it waste resources in a primary way, because recycling paper uses more energy and resources than virgin pulp to make paper, but it turns out to waste paper in a secondary, consumer choice way:  People actually use more paper in the first place, because it's going to be recycled!

You doubt me?  Read the new study:

Jesse Catlin & Yitong Wang, Journal of Consumer Psychology, January 2013, Pages 122–127

Abstract: In this study, we propose that the ability to recycle may lead to increased resource usage compared to when a recycling option is not available. Supporting this hypothesis, our first experiment shows that consumers used more paper while evaluating a pair of scissors when the option to recycle was provided (vs. not provided). In a follow-up field experiment, we find that the per person restroom paper hand towel usage increased after the introduction of a recycling bin compared to when a recycling option was not available. We conclude by discussing implications for research and policy.

With a nod to Neanderbill

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