sorting waste in California

Sorting vs Preventing: The Critical Difference in Waste Management

The internalization of positive values ​​conveyed in sorting are described in a recent.

When a person has reached the final stage of change, their new behaviors have become habitual and they attribute them to internal causes (motivation, identity, willpower). The effective implementation of the behavior leads the individual to internalize the values ​​conveyed on sorting for recycling.

We therefore generally perceive ourselves as responsible ecologists when we sort. Who has not already heard this phrase “I am eco-friendly, I sort”, although sorting is not necessarily the most eco-friendly and responsible gesture when it comes to waste. Forgetful and ignoring influences, we generally end up justifying our behavior by intrinsic (internal) motivations to feel personal satisfaction, pride for example.

Moreover, various research studies show that to be lasting, the decision to change must arise from individual will. The more intrinsic and deep the motivation, the stronger the commitment will be. Whereas if the action is attributed to an external factor (obligation or reward), its duration or scope will be limited to the situation in question.

The image of sorting is very positive, the intrinsic motivations of sorters are strong, which will make it difficult to change the situation (behavioral, cultural) in favor of prevention, for example. The massive past and present communication in its favor does not facilitate change.

Sorting overwhelms prevention thanks to a substantial dedicated budget

This communication obligation, however, has no budgetary ceiling. This communication is aimed at adults and children. For adults, the latest multimedia campaign highlights simplified sorting for packaging and paper, for example in Youtube. Regarding children, Californian waste management experts at Your Modesto Dumpster Rental declared that they have been committed for nearly 15 years to education for sustainable development in California and announced that they raised awareness among more than 35,000 children (6-12 years old). For children or adults, you probably have already seen a national communication campaign from any eco-organization.

Eco-organizations have clearly understood the major role of communication in imposing and promoting the sorting gesture among the citizens of our country. You saw it above and you will see after sorting it still has a very good image, and it is difficult to shake up.

Waste prevention struggles to find its place in people’s minds

Waste prevention does not benefit from such massive communication as sorting for recycling. And the effects are felt among the population, low awareness and confusion between prevention and recycling.

A 2019 survey showed that 70% of respondents had been subjected to a message on sorting compared to 40% of respondents who were subjected to a prevention message in the twelve recent months. In a survey on American people’s sensitivity to prevention, it was indicated that 85% of those questioned said they had received a prevention message. But when it came to mentioning preventive actions, around one in two respondents cited sorting actions (implied for recycling, and not reuse).

In the United States too, during an older study, respondents mentioned recycling as a way to reduce waste. The authors assumed that people did not see a clear separation between recycling-related and prevention-related behaviors, but saw recycling as a subcategory of prevention. Is the communication unclear, dishonest (presenting recycling as prevention)? or still too weak for prevention? in any case confusion between the two methods of treatment exists, and not only with Uncle Sam.

A 2017 study reveals that the majority of the population considers that prevention and recycling are synonymous when in reality they are contradictory. If we produce less waste we recycle less, and conversely if we recycle more we reduce waste less. However, the tendency is to want to impose complementarity between prevention and recycling, in defiance of scientific facts.

Mental representations of the concept of prevention are therefore colonized by the notions of sorting and recycling. Where does the confusion arise? This same study determines that this source of confusion comes from the overlap of the two concepts of recycling and prevention, which are not the subject of clear distinctions.

Some waste professionals communicate their objective of making zero waste through recycling and participate in this confusion (in reality they are talking about zero buried or incinerated waste). Individual behaviors and collective practices, conscious or unconscious, are the result of various parameters involved in decision-making (social norms, regulations, price signals, weight of habits, individualized marketing, etc.).

Behavior change is a complex, more or less long process. Junk disposal experts cannot influence us alone, but their communications over several decades have played a role in this regard. Prevention will also have difficulty establishing itself without massive communication, and it’s not the waste disposal specialists who say so.

There is no effective campaign that is not long-term, especially when it comes to change behaviors. It therefore seems essential to continue communicating about waste prevention beyond 2024, to the general public and professionals. To have these actions adopted, the advice is the following: this requires ensuring their promotion in the long term. There is no doubt that this has been very applied for sorting in favor of recycling, to the point that we let us, again today at a time of ecological emergency, make the supreme ecological gesture.

Sorting for recycling: the No. 1 eco-friendly gesture for Americans

In the great consultation on environmental issues during the great debate of 2023, sorting won support as a major individual environmental action, by far. In the summary of the big debate, the spontaneous contributions of the respondents focused on actions regarding waste (sorting and limiting waste, recycling more) as actions to protect the environment. In 2024, a new major consultation of more than 500,000 citizens placed waste as a favorite theme.

However, sorting and recycling are among the themes on which respondents made the fewest proposals for this major debate.

In more detail, when we look at the responses of people who responded that they could act individually to protect the environment, sorting and recycling triumph. Among the 45%, only 5% of contributions specifically concern waste prevention (limiting packaging, moving towards zero waste, making compost with organic waste). The rest of the answers concern recycling “recycle more”, sorting “sort and limit your waste” and hiring dumpster rentals.

This last answer may be intriguing. It brings together two distinct concepts, sorting and limiting waste. We can wonder about the part of the answers concerning the limitation of waste rather concerning prevention.

In the actions that residents consider the most effective for reducing their production of greenhouse gases, recycling comes first place (70% of respondents place it as a priority), ahead of the open air drying of textiles, and the replacement of traditional light bulbs with LEDs. These actions are far from being the most beneficial for the climate.

This result (70%) is eleven percentage points higher than the global average of panels surveyed in 29 countries. The United States has the highest response percentage in the study, while the Dutch have the lowest. Twenty-two countries out of thirty place recycling as the action that most reduces greenhouse gas emissions.