SOME PSYCHOLOGICAL ASPECTS
The Structure of
RAYMOND DE YOUNG is a Research Fellow in the School of Natural Re
sources and Lecturer in Psychology at nJe University of Michigan. His research
has centered on people's commitment to environmentally responsible behavior.
ABSTRACT: This article focuses on sati:sfactions derived from the recycling of
household solid waste materials. Data from 107 respondents to a mail-back
questionnaire were subjected to d i m e n s i o n ~ 1 analysis and analysis of variance.
The results indicate that people derive a series ofseparate and distinct satisfactions
from both recycling and reusing materials. The satisfactions were quite specific,
involving, for exampl·e, frugality and participation. These findings suggest that our
understanding of why people bother to conserve resources may be improved by
investigating the personal satisfactions derived from conservation activities.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I would like to acknowledgs' support from the University of
Michigan Office ofEnergy Research (Project No. 65) and the Horace H. Rackham
School of Graduate Studies.
ENVIRONMENT AND BEHAVIOR, Vol. 18 No.4, July 1986 435-449
c 1986 Sage Publications, Inc.
436 ENVIRONMENT AND BEHAVIOR / July 19186
Ameri(!ans discard three to five pounds of trash every day,
amounting to some three tons per year for the average
household. In 1971 over 125 million tons of solid w'aste
were discarded; by 1980 this figure had reached almost 150
million tons; and projections indicate that by 1990 it will top
200 million tons. Even more i n c r e d i b l ~ e than the amount of
waste generated is the anticipated ratEt of growth. SincH the
1920s the amount of solid waste has increased about five
times as rapidly as the population (tvlelosi, 1981). By any
standard this is an unjustified amount of waste. To cope
with this problem, we spend an enormous amount of
money. Solid waste managenlent represents a major tax
burden for almost every urban area. In many cities it is
surpassed only by costs for schools and roads. Americans
spent one bUlion dollars in 1 ! ~ 6 0 to collect and dispose of
wastes. By 1980 tlhis had risen to over four billion dollars,
and by the end of 1985 the figure was E ~ x p e c t e d to reach six
billion dollars (Purcell, 1980).
What these costs do not reflect is that the cun-ent
disposal practice of land filling is quickly becoming a
politically unacceptable option. Siting new landfills and
expanding old ones have become aln almost impos:siible
task. Nothing can get the public a r o u s E ~ d quite as effectively
as mentioning that a sanitary landfill mlay be sited near their
backyards. ~ \ n d yet there are no new :solid waste manage
ment strategies ready to replace sanitary land filling. In 'fact,
many of the primitive methods, aspec:ially open dumping,
still dominate in many rural communities. One option
receiving attention during the past dtecade was at-source
separation and recycling of household waste-a low te,ch
nology strategy for reducing the neled for new landfi lis.
Although recycling offers a technically feasible and often
c o s t - e f f e c t i v « ~ solution to the solid waste managem1ent
p r o b l e m ~ ,ts I-ate of adoption has been disappointing. A,s a
resu It, motivational aspects of conservation have been
explored in an effort to learn how to entcourage more people
De Young / PSYCHOLOGICAL ASPECTS OF RECYCLING 437
A large number of studies addressed to the issue of
I ~ o n s e r v i n g resources have applied a behavioral framework
1that tends to promote the use of external justification for
behavior (Katzev and Johnson, 1983). Geller and asso
ciates (1982: 151) suggest that "indeed, most of !he be
Ihavioral studies have demonstrated that a c o s t - e f f e c t ~ v e
recycling program requires some so.1 of incentive to
lencourage participation." Much b E ~ h a v i o r a l research on
Iconservation and just about all recycling program,s have
,emphasized the use of extrinsic i n c E ~ n t i v e s .
The use of extrinsic incentives can include both the
purchase of source-separated matf3rials from the public
(e.g., the purchase of used aluminurn beverage containers
by aluminum manufacturers) and the provision of rewards
for underta.dng the behavior. Jacobs and Bailey (1982
1983) reported on the effectiveness of a monetary re'ltl'ard in
increasing participation in a residential newslPaper
recycling program. And Luyben and Cummings (1981
1982) found that the combination of a prompt, lottery, and
contest was more effective in prornoting beverage con
tainer recycling than a baseline treatment using only the
prompt and convenient recycling containers. Of c()urse,
extrinsic incentives are not limited to money. Coole and
B ~ r r e n b e r g (1981) report on the IJse of such extrinsic
incentives and disincentives as increased or decroased
comfort or convenience, and social approval or disapproval
(see also Nielsen and Ellington, 198:3).
Extrinsic incentives generally are successful at pro
moting a desired behavior. However, they are not without
their limitations. For instance, s t u d i . ~ s have found t h ~ l t the
desired behavior is usually maintained only as long as the
incentive is in effect (Katzav and Johnson, 1983). In their
438 ENVIRONMENT AND BEHAVIOR / July 1986
study of paper recyc!ling, Witmer and Geller (1976) reported
that after removal oir the extrinsic incentives, there was an
immediate return to baseline levels. Clearly, difficulties can
sometimes arise w h f ~ n using extrinsic i n f ~ e n t i v e s to promote
long-term, e n d u r i n ~ , changes in behavio,r. These difficulties
can be further comlplicated by occasional failures in cost
Whereas several studies have suggested that n-Ionetary
incentives are a cost-effective way of encouraging house
holds to recycle (s,ee Cone a.nd Hayes, 1980; Geller et aI.,
1982), other studies have failed to demonstrate this claim.
In a thorough cost-benefit analysis of a n3sidential recycling
program, Jacobs and Bailey (1982-1983) found that none of
their four strategies to increase participation (prompting,
payment for material, a lottery, or i n c r E ~ a s E ~ d frequency of
collection) produced enough revenues from the sale of
collected materials to pay for the cost of the strategies.
Another study found that the strategies that produced the
greatest degree of participation were not always cost-effec
tive (Jacobs et aI., 1984). Similar findings can be noted in
energy conservation research where t h e ~ value of the incen
tives has someti mes exceeded the value of the energy saved
(McClelland and Canter, 1981; ~ J e w s o l m and Makranczy,
SATISFACTIONS AND INTRINSIC MOTIVA,TION
A possible alternative to the use of extrinsic incentives is
to consider the role of intrinsic motivation. Research on
nlotivation has revealed that a good deal of human behavior
is not explained in terms of anticipated goals or extrinsic
rewards, but rather in terms of ~ J o a l s and rewards that arise
out of active partiCipation in an o n g o i n ~ ~ activity (see Deci,
1975; Deci and Ryan, 1985; Eckblad, 1981; Lepper and
Greene, 1978). In a recent study of newspaper recycling,
Pardini and Katzev (1983-1984: 251) s p 4 ~ c u l a t e d about why
their use of a moderate form of external inducement
De Young I PSYCHOLOGICAL ASPEGTS OF RECYCLING 439
(participants were asked either to give a verbal commitment
to recycle or to sign a legally nonbinding commitment
statement) was able to maintain recycling behavior when
"virtually all attempts to sustain recycling behavior under
incentive-based programs have traditionally been charac
terized by an abrupt cessation of recycling once the
external incentive is withdrawn." They suggest that the
participants, by virtue of their commitlnent to carry out the
behavior, may have been led to "find tlheir own reasons for
recycling, to begin to even like dOing so, and, as a result, to
continue to perform these behaviors 011 their own" (p. 253).
In another study of resource c o n s E ~ r v a t i o n , De Young
(1985-"1986) has reported a close association between
derived satisfactions and intrinsic motivation. The study
reportE)d here explores the structure of satisfactions people
derive from behaving in an environn,entally responsible
PARTICIFtANTS ~ ~ N D SETTING
For over 7 years, Ann Arbor, Michigan, has had a monthly
curbside collection program. This curbside collection service,
referred to as Recycle Ann Arbor, has gone through several
expansions of its service area and is currently available
citywide. This study focused on three adjacent but demo
graphically d i s t ~ n c t areas of Ann Arbor consisting mostly of
single family haines. Recycle Ann Arbor had indicated that
these areas would be included in their next stage of
expansion s e ~ v e l r a l months before thiH study began. The
residents of these three service areas were surveyed before
1they hald gained any firsthand experience with curbside
Irecycling. The intent was to assess satisfactions derived
from recycling activities that the residents were already
E N V I I ~ O N M E N T AND BEHAVIOR / July 1986
carrying out (Le., a c t i v ~ t i e s less convenient and less visible
than the curbside coliElction service).
In all, 300 questionnaires were distributed to randomly
selected, single-family homes, 100 in each area. Of the
questionnaires, 112 were returned, although 5 of these were
incomplete. Thus the 107 questionnaires included in the
data analysis represent a return rate of 35.7%. This is a low
but reasonable return rate g;,ven the mail-back, no follow
up nature 01 the data collection procedure (Kerlinger,
The community studied is a university town (about half of
Ann Arbor's 100,000 population is associated with the
university-s.tudents, faculty, or staff), and the residents
tend to have more forrnal education and more residential
stability than the national average (based on findings of the
1980 census and a 1980 Ann Arbor City Planning Depart
ment Household Survey). In these and certain other respects,
the sample may not be fully representative of the general
pubUc. Based on the demographic data from the survey,
approximately 69% of the respondents were women. About
12% of the sample were under 30 years old, 58% were in
their 30s or 40s, 14% wlere in their 50s, and 16% were 60 or
older. Over 75% of thE' sample had at least a bachelor's
degree. With respect to income, about 23% reported earning
less than $20,000, about 60% reported incomes of between
$20,000 and $50,000, and 17% reported making over $50,000.
The respondents were rnainly long-time residents with over
45% having lived in Ann Arbor for more than 20 years. The
average household s i z E ~ was reported as 2.9 people and a
vast majority (81 %) described their households as "more
than one person where all are related."
THE SURVEY INSTRUMENT
The survey instrument included a two-page questionnaire
and a postage-paid return envelope. A short introduction to
the survey was given at the top of the questionnaire and
De Young / PSYCHOLOGICAL ASPECTS OF RECYCLING 441
respond1ents were provided with a phone number to call if
they had any questions.1
The questionnaire focused on satisfactions and conser
vation be!haviors. All items otherthan a series of background
questions used a 5-point rating scale. The 18 satisfaction
items covered satisfaction gained from avoiding waste,
r e c y c l i n ~ l , repairing, and saving things. Also included were
questions on satisfaction from becoming more self-suffi
cient, having a chance to participate, being a member of an
affluent society, and so forth. Included among the 21 be
havior i t E ~ m s were such activities as recycling, reusing, and
saving material. Additional items dealt with the purchase of
secondh,3nd goods, making things forthe family, and so on.
A number of the behavior items were drawn from a Leonard
Barton (1981) study of voluntary simplicity behavior.
nATA ANAL.YSIS PROCEDURE
The data analysis procedure involved two separate steps.
First, the two distinct sets of questionnaire items (satis
factions ,and behaviors) were processed through dimen
sional a n ; a l y s ~ s and stable categories were identified. In the
second step, the relationships among the sets of categories
Categories were identified using both a nonmetric factor
analysis program (Guttman-Lingoes Smallest Space Analysis
III; see Lingoes, 1972) and the ICLUST Hierarchical Cluster
A ~ n a l y s i s program developed by Kulik and associates (1970).
The rationale for using these techniques and their advan
tages are! discussed in Kaplan (1972, 1975a). Coming to
t E ~ r m s with 1the output of two different algorithms requires
guidelines for how one settles on categories. Kaplan
("1975b) addresses these issues, listing three criteria that
have been followed in this study. Briefly, the criteria specify
that: (1) any particular item should be included in no more
than one category; (2) each category should "hang to
gl3theru sitatistically (Cronbach's coefficient of internal
consistency [alpha);2 see Cronbach, 1951; Nunnally, 1978);
442 ENVIRONMENT AND BEHAVIOR / July 1986
and (3) the categories should be meaningful to the re
searcher. If the c a t e g o r i E ~ s are not interpretable, it may well
be an indication that thEt constructs in thE' study were not
After running the SSA-III and ICLUST programs on each
set of questionnaire items, the results of both programs
were compared and final categories selected. In general,
the ICLUST results were used to get a rough idea of the
contents of categories, ~ y i t h the SSA-lil results being used
in the final selection of categories. To achieve these
objectives and to enhance c o n s i s t e ~ n c y , the following series
of guidelines was established:
(1) In ICLUST, select clusters of items with alpha values of at least
0.60 and an average correlation among items of at least 0.40.
(2) In SSA-III, select all categories with roots (eigenvalues) of at least
(3) Choose items for each category that have loadings of at least 0.40
and that do not load above this level on any other category.
By this procedure, foulr satisfaction categories and two
behavior categories w e l ~ e iclentified. Following the identi
fication of the categories, scales were constructed for each
by calculating the average of the ratings given by each
respondent to all the separate items within each category.
This resulted in a s i n g l E ~ score on each category for each
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
The four satisfaction scales, a.long with the specific items
included in each, are presented in Table 1. The low
intercorrelations among these scales (between -.01 and
.37) indicate tl,at they reflected relatively independent
aspects of satisfaction.
The satisfaction fronl Frugality-defined as the careful
use of resources and t h E ~ avoidance of waste-can easily be
De Young / PSYCHOLOGICAL ASPECTS OF RECYCLING 443
applied to daily living, in'folving such things as what items
vve purchase, what activities we undertake, and how we
dispose of our wastes. In America, frugality and hard work
have been hallmarks of our culture since our colonial days.
Whereas we are regularly reminded that such simple values
build character, the respondents seem to go beyond the
utilitarian nature of frugality to suggest it also provides
reward flnd fulfillment.
Self-sufficiency and self-reliance are concepts that have
grown as people have come to view the economy as
precarious and large systems as vulnerable (Nicholls,
1981). Nicholls views the movement toward self-sufficiency
as a matter of necessity for many. Whether it is a necessity
or a matter of voluntary choice, the respondents indicated
that f i n d i n ~ 1 ways to manage for one's self can be a
The idea that humans did not evolve as passive beings,
'It'illing to accept solutions from kindly others, but rather as
active, knowledge-generating and knowledge-utilizing crea
tures has gained wide support (Kaplan and Kaplan, 1982).
The sense of being needed, of having a chance to influence
how things are decided, is not a luxury but a necessary part
of our psychological well-being. The chance for Partici-
TABLE 1 ?
Satisfaction Scales ?
SATISFACTION FROM FRUGALITY:
Flndlng ways to avold wa£te
Repairlng tnlngs rather than dlscardlng
Savlng ltems I may '1eed someday
SATISFACTION FROM SELF-SUFFICIEN::V:
F ~ '1d 1 n9 n e ~ J
RedlSCGver ing ways oeopie useo to de thlngs
w a ~ ' s tc become se If -su" f i c 1 ent
SATISFACTION FROM P
A chance tG 00 things that make a difference
Participation in activities involving the community
Particlpation in brlnging sense/order to world
SATISFACTION FROM LUXURIES:
Being a cltizen of the richest country
Havlng luxurles of civilize~ scciety
3.73 1.03 .76
a. Cronbach's coefficient alpha (1951).
444 ENVIRONMENT AND BIEHAVIOR / July 1986
pation, to be involved, is v i ( ~ w e d by the respondents as
A final category emerged from the dimensional analysis
that will be referred to as satisfaction from Luxuries.
Focusing on the pleasure gained from having the conveni
ences of our modern society, this category would seem to
reflect the satisfaction people feel in being members of the
affluent and participating in the good life. In one sense
satisfaction gained from Luxuries might be considered the
direct opposite of the other satisfactions. Yet all four
satisfaction scales have similar mean scores. The Luxuries
scale is uncorrelated with each of the other scales and thus
not the antithesis of satisfaction from Frugality, 8elf
sufficiency, or Participation.
The two behavior scales are described in Table 2. The
correlation between these behavior scales is .29, sup
porting their relative independence. Recycling and reusing
activities, although both forrrls of ecologically responsible
behavior, are interesting in their differences. Recycling
involves a link between the household and the community
because it involves a community-scale organization-if
only to store the collected materials prior to sale. In
contrast, reusing is centered within the household, involving
a form of direct at-the-source recycling. Some people
support reuse over recycling bl3cause recycling requires
manufacturing energies and produces wastes of its own,
whereas reuse does not (Purcell, 1980).
Although recycling has no din3ct effect on a household's
purchase of new goods, reusing behavior can reduce
marketplace consumption. Forthis reason reuse is considered
a component of source-reduction-a reduction in the total
amount of waste materials leaving the home either as trash
or recyclables. Melosi (1981) reports that the Environ
mental Protection Agency considers source-reduction to
be a radical concept and quotIes a glass industry spokes
man as saying source-reduction is an obstruction to progress.
The American life-style has been characterized as one of
De Young / PSYCHOLOGICAL ASPECTS OF RECYCLING 445
Contribute to ecological!¥ orientea group
Use Ecology Center recycl ing statIon
Recycle glass Jars and oottles
R E U S E I ~ :
Reuse old cloth as rags or drop cloth
Save food containers to store thIngs in
Save wood, glass. etc. from household projects
Reuse aluminum foil in the kltcher
conspicuous consumption; yet the respondents report a
significantly higher mean score on the Reuser scale than on
the Recycler scale (t =7.52, df =105, P < .001).
RELATIONISHIP BETWEEN BEHAVIOR
AND SATISFACTION SCALES
In an effort to understand the data better, relationships
between the satisfaction scales and behavior scales were
analyzed. In preparation for performing these analyses,
scores for each behavior scale were divided into a number
of distinct categories. When the distribution of values dis
played sufficient variance, three levels of a behavior scale
were created (high, medium, and low scores on that scale)
and analysis of variance was used to investigate relation
ships between that behavior scale and the satisfaction
scales. In cases in which there was insufficient variance, the
Student t-test was performed using two categories. In
dividing the scores on a scale into subcategories, an attempt
was made to include roughly equal numbers of respondents
None of the items in the satisfaction scales makes direct
mention of the word "recycling" (see Table 1). Never
theless, one might expect the various kinds of satisfaction
ito be related meaningfully to conservation behavior in
general. Each aspect has a dh,tinct focus: Satisfaction
446 ENVIRONMENT AND BEHAVIOR / July 1986
gained from Frugality is not an activity-neutral satisfaction,
but a satisfaction derived from the prudent use of resources.
One would expect behaviors that avoid waste and involve
the efficient use of resources to show a positive relationship
with the satisfaction from the Frugality scale. Analysis of
the relationships did, in fact, show that both the Rlecycler
and the Reuser scales were positively associated with satis
faction from Frugality (F =6.44, df =2, 104, P<.005, and F =
15.37, df =2, 104, P< .0001, respectively).
A relationship between the Recycler and Participation
scales ellso existed (F =4.51, df = 2, 102, P <::: .02). Source
separation recycling is an activity that demands a good deal
of involvement on the part of the individual. With regard to
this required involvement, recycling is sometimes por
trayed as a primitive, time-consuming, and inconvenient
behavior-hardly an appropriate behavior for a techno
logically advanced society. Yet, people gain satisfaction
from acting in ways that make a difference and from helping
to bring order to the world. And these are satisfactions that
can be derived from a conservation behavior ~ ) u c h as
recycling. For some people, the possibility of deriving such
satisfactions may be a more salient aspect of recycling than
Prior research has t a u ~ J h t us very little about the sources
of sa.tisfaction gained during people's daily pursuits. A
major finding of the research reported here is the structure
of satisfactions derived from everyday activities. These
satisfaGtions are distinct ancl specific: Frugality-the avoid
ance of wasteful practices; Participation in activilties that
can make a differencre in the long run; and LUlxuries
having access to the m a t E ~ r i a l benefits afforded by our
De Young / PSYCHOLOGICAL J-,SPECTS OF RECYCLING 447
That people would relate satisf:action derived from frugal
activities with recycling and reusing behavior seems an
innocent and perhaps obvious finding. Yet on reflection this
suggests that people might carry out conservation behavior
not for the promise of a tangible e}(ternal reward but forthe
personal satisfaction they derive trom the activity.
Although the satisfaction from Luxuries was a coherent
and independent component of satisfaction, it was generally
u ncorrelated with the other satisfaction scales. I n other
words, it is not contradictory to derive satisfaction both
from Frugality and Luxuries. This suggests the possibility
that environmentally appropriate! behavior may be made to
appeal to a broad cross-section of Americans rather than
just to people of a Spartan nature.
People seem able to derive considerable satisfaction
from the very activities that others try so hard to encourage
them to do. This finding is heartening. The idea of getting
by with less can easily be characterized as a form of
sacrifice. Yet the study reported here suggests that conser
vation can also be perceived as contributing to one's sense
1. A copy of the questionnaire is available by writing to the author at 170 Dana
Building, School of Natural Resources, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
2. The coefficient alpha reflects the degree to which a collection of items
IIhangs together." Because items that group together can be thought of as alter
nate measures of some abstract construct, the alpha value can be thought of as a
rough measure of construct validity (Nunnally, 1978).
3. The self-report data collection procedure was the source of both the
independent and the dependent variables. The logic of the assumed causal
relationship between behaviors and satisfactions is based on conservation
behaviors being antecedents to any derived satisfactions.
448 ENVIRONMENT AND BEHAVIOR / July 1986
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