Technology has advanced so rapidly in the last few decades that it’s difficult to imagine life without smartphones, GPS maps, laptop computers, and other electronic devices. According to a new study, consumers who were told that not recycling their batteries “risked polluting the equivalent of 140 Olympic swimming pools every year” were more likely to participate in an electronic waste recycling scheme. The University of Portsmouth paper investigates how to improve our sustainable disposal of electronic waste (e-waste).
With Christmas approaching and consumers purchasing the latest mobile phones, tablets, headphones, and televisions, older electronic products become obsolete, contributing to the alarming amount of potentially toxic e-waste.
Researchers at the University of Portsmouth conducted research to determine what factors encourage consumers to safely dispose of e-waste, which will be useful for managers and policymakers implementing disposal schemes.
Our research looks at what factors are effective in encouraging people to recycle their e-waste, and we hope that this information will be useful in implementing successful disposal schemes.Dr. Diletta Acuti
“The world’s electronic waste is an enormous problem that needs to be addressed urgently,” said Dr. Diletta Acuti of the University’s Faculty of Business and Law. E-waste frequently contains hazardous substances such as mercury, lead, or acid, which end up in landfills without any treatment or special precautions, causing significant long-term damage to the environment and human health.
“Adequate treatment of this waste is therefore an environmental necessity.”
In 2019, 205,000 tons of portable batteries were sold in Europe, but only half were collected for recycling. Dr Acuti’s research looks specifically at the disposal of batteries.
The researchers conducted a field experiment in Northern Italy, which analysed how the proximity of bins and the language used to encourage recycling affected 100 people’s efforts to dispose of their e-waste.
She stated: “We’re buying more technology, resulting in mountains of e-waste, and the problem is only going to get worse; however, proper waste disposal can only be achieved if consumers actively participate in recycling. Our research looks at what factors are effective in encouraging people to recycle their e-waste, and we hope that this information will be useful in implementing successful disposal schemes.”
A number of bins were set up to collect old batteries, and letters were distributed to inform people about the new program. Some of the letters used metaphorical language to see if it would encourage recycling, while others used numerical information. The researchers discovered that metaphorical language had a stronger influence on consumer behavior.
“Those who were told that a battery contains approximately one gram of mercury, an amount that can pollute the equivalent of seven bathtubs of water and that we risk polluting the equivalent of 140 Olympic swimming pools every year were more likely to recycle their batteries,” Dr. Acuti explained.
“Metaphors elicit a visual representation of an object in the consumer’s mind that is too large or too distant from the individual’s lived reality, such as large amounts of water, making an abstract object more concrete and easier to understand. We can actually change consumer behavior and use marketing for a better world by strategically placing bins and making information about the disposal scheme simple to understand.”