How to Make Recycling a Habit to Help the Planet

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To help uncover easy, practical ways to form recycling habits that stick, expert behavioral scientist and researcher Dr. Wendy Wood, created tips that anyone can use to make recycling an automatic part of their daily routine and, most importantly, to feel good about doing it. 

The emotional reward associated with recycling is also one of the keys to forming a habit. Beyond personal happiness and confidence, Americans who always or frequently recycle say they are doing their part to save the planet (88%) – compared to those who only sometimes or rarely recycle (67%).

More than 60% of Americans want to recycle more in the new year, and now is a perfect time to start. Here are eight easy tips from the research to make recycling easy and rewarding for Americans year-round:

  1. Keep a recycling bin at home. While this sounds like commonsense, 61% of recyclers who have a bin at home recycle regularly, compared with only 32% of recyclers who don’t have a bin at home—almost twice as much! This is the power of small changes.
  2. Have more than one bin in your home. 63% of recyclers who have two or three bins in their homes have strong recycling habits! Having more than one bin is convenient and serves as a reminder where to put waste. You don’t have to walk to another room or floor, and it also helps prevent having an overflowing bin.
  3. Ensure that everyone in the household pitches in. Create accountability for everyone. Households where everyone is responsible for recycling show a 15% increase in recycling habits over households that don’t.
  4. Keep a list or printout in a visible place of what materials can be recycled. Having an easy guide to recycling can make a huge difference. In fact, 63% of recyclers said they would recycle more if cardboard packaging simply had recycling instructions printed on it. Having clear cues reduces decision making – making it easier to recycle correctly and avoiding wishcycling.
  5. Opt-in for curbside pickup—if it’s convenient and available in your area. Simply having recyclables picked up increased habits by 24%. This is the ultimate hack to make it easy – without curbside pickup, recyclers have to store their material somewhere until they are able to drive it to a drop off point. The easiest recommendation of all? Recycling cardboard boxes. 71% of recyclers knew to empty, flatten, and recycle boxes.
  6. Place your recycling bin in an easy location within the home. Opting for a location close to where you generate recyclable material can simplify the process. Among our survey participants who had curbside recycling, 68% of those who had a recycling bin in the kitchen recycled habitually, compared with only 58% of those who kept the bin in the garage.
  7. Avoid throwing recyclables in the trash. Among habitual recyclers, 61% said they feel guilty when they do this. When recyclables go into the trash, it becomes environmental waste. They can’t be reused or repurposed.
  8. Start with recycling what is easiest, like paper, as habits build on each other. Recyclers with a strong habit of recycling paper also had habits for recycling cardboard and paper packaging.

Opting for paper products makes recycling easy, and paper can be recycled up to seven times when disposed of properly. A key to living sustainably is being diligent about habitually recycling. Start slow and ease your way into adopting recycling habits, and soon enough, you’ll be a recycling regular!