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It’s not just you. A majority of Americans are unsure about recycling, and the situation caused by the Chinese decision to cease accepting all scrap from outside countries is causing more confusion. At the moment, it isn’t easy to know if the items that are thrown into the recycling bin are actually recycled.

Research has shown that most of the time, Americans give up trying to sort their recyclables. In addition, they indulge in hopeless recycling and throw nonrecyclables in the trash. However, the majority of waste doesn’t make it that far. Many people are overwhelmed by the job.

The average American produces about 4.5 tonnes of waste every day. Only 1.5 grams of this is composted or recycled. This means that, over 78.7 years, an American will send 67,000 pounds of garbage to landfills. This is more than double that of an anchor for a cruise ship.

The piles of scrap materials are growing in U.S. recycling centers that cannot transport them to China. AP Photo/Charles Krupa

While many communities and organizations have enacted guidelines and action plans that focus on advancing the circular economy, many obstacles remain in the way of making it difficult for people to cut down, recycle, reuse, and reduce. The current policies are by analyzing the results of economics and engineering but do not take into account how human behavior on an individual level relates to the larger system.

My colleagues, as well as my colleagues, utilize the science of behavior to promote goals that range in scope from the conservation of energy to the bonding of communities. In the latest research paper, the economist Marieke Huysentruyt, Ph.D. candidate Emma Barnosky, and I discovered positive solutions to the issue of recycling that are based on personal advantages in addition to social ties.

Why is it so difficult to recycle?

What is it that makes getting Americans to recycle more difficult? In the first place, a large portion of people don’t know how to deal with waste and recycling. They aren’t aware of the environmental damage that caused by garbage, and the majority aren’t able to connect individuals’ actions to these issues.

Many people aren’t aware of what happens to their garbage, including recyclables, or what could be made out of the materials. They may know the day to dispose of curbside trash and recycle it, but they aren’t certain of the materials businesses will accept. In a study of 220 Americans, 53% of respondents incorrectly believed that pizza boxes with grease could be reused, and 68% thought that the same was true for plastic utensils that were used.

The complexity of the regulations can make it difficult for customers to recycle properly. Town of Danvers, Mass.

A further 39% of those surveyed said that they were frustrated and had difficulty accessing recycling services as the main obstacles. California is required to pay a 5 to 10-cent redemption fee per container of beverage, but these facilities can be difficult to access. For instance, the nearest to my house in Los Angeles is eight miles away, and that can mean taking at least an hour. This isn’t worth the cost of the small amount of cans that my family makes.

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Jane S. King

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