We recycle more when the products are linked to our self-identity

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Key take-away(s)

Products with packagings linked to the self-identity of a person are more likely to be recycled than trashed by that person. The authors suggest the following explanation:

We have theorized that throwing an identity-linked product in the trash presents an identity threat because it is symbolically similar to throwing a piece of yourself in the trash.


  • Looking at the paper, the sample sizes are rather small (400 for example), and some studies (7 in total) were done through Amazon MTurk, which is almost always an issue in terms of results reliability. So I would be quite skeptical of the results here, though they could be robust of course.
  • My main comment is that the reason why recycling is increased when packagings are linked to one’s identity is not what the authors suggest. Rather, I think this is mostly due to the fact that their identity as an individual or citizen (when country flags are used) is made more salient when trashing the product, and thus they want to preserve their self-esteem by “choosing the right action”. So identity markings on the packaging act as a reminder of their responsibilities.
  • The choice to recycle needs to be an everyday habit for it to be useful, and it would be interesting to investigate if the increase in recycling behavior is sustained in the long-term.

Further analysis based on the ICH Framework (link)

Note: only sections relevant to this case study are mentioned below. Please look at the complete ICH Behavior Analysis Framework to understand how they fit in a systematic behavioral analysis.

Choice Architecture

Contextual persuasion and copy

  • information reminding the persons choosing between recycling or trashing a product is printed on the packaging. It could be the name of the person on a cup of take-away coffee or the national flags to use the collective national identity.


The Recycled Self: Consumers’ Disposal Decisions of Identity-Linked Products Restricted access;Remi Trudel, Jennifer J. Argo, Matthew D. Meng; DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/jcr/ucw014 ucw014 First published online: 25 March 2016