University of Padova

VERITAS – Household recycling practices and psychological determinants (PhD Grant)


In recent years, the ever-increasing generation of urban waste is posing serious problems to developed countries and cities, highlighting the pressing need to transform their current recycling practices into more efficient and sustainable ones. This is not possible, however, without the involvement and active cooperation of citizens as key initiators and sustainers of the entire recycling process. During the last decades, the question of what makes people recycle or not has occupied researchers and practitioners seeking to understand and influence this behavior, resulting in a great number of publications examining recycling from a range of perspectives including psychology, economics, sociology, geography and marketing. Yet the comprehension of this phenomenon and of the most effective ways to promote its adoption among people is still far from being exhaustive.
The aim of the research presented here is thus to examine household recycling using a mixed-method approach, in order to overcome the limitations that characterize both quantitative and qualitative research and to provide new penetrating insights to comprehend this phenomenon and promote its adoption. The research work is composed of two main parts. The first, theoretical, consists of a systematic review of the existing recycling literature, offering an in-depth overview of the identified socio-psychological and situational determinants of household recycling (Chapter 1), as well as of the intervention strategies used to promote it, including a meta-analysis of their effectiveness (Chapter 2). Starting from here, the second part concerns the investigation in the Italian context of household recycling drivers and dynamics, as well as of the mechanisms underlying its adoption and maintenance over time. The mixed-method approach adopted to undertake the research is discussed in Chapter 3, pointing at the flexible use of quantitative and qualitative methods to gather different but complementary types of data. Study 1 consists indeed of an extensive online survey allowing to collect data across a large population sample, while Study 2 relies on qualitative and ethnographic methods, such as interviews, observations and home tours, to achieve a deeper comprehension of recycling dynamics in the setting of the home, exploring the experiences of participants and the meanings they attribute to them. Altogether the pieces of evidence obtained from the present thesis point at the relational and habitual nature of recycling, evidencing that various factors, such as knowledge and the perceived value of waste (Chapter 4), motivations to recycle and those used to justify defective episodes (Chapter 5), cooperation and distribution of tasks between family members, the organization of domestic spaces, as well as the responsibilities for recycling attributed to external actors (Chapter 6) interact with each other and become locally important in influencing recycling behavior. A general discussion synthetizing the theoretical findings and the results obtained by the studies presented in this thesis is then offered in Chapter 7, with the twofold aim to extend the results of previous research on recycling and to delineate a set of practical recommendations for implementing effective interventions.

Supported by VERITAS
Funding period: 2017-2018
Scientific coordinator: prof. Luciano Gamberini
Grant beneficiary: Alessandra Varotto


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