Waste sorting at the household level : a study of motivation and behavior behind sorting of household waste when an external incentive is present
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It has been recognized that individuals are representing a source contributing to a great proportion of environmental pollution as private consumption has elevated as a response to increased purchasing power. Today’s culture where there exists a substantial consumption of new products, followed by a use and disposal culture, is not surprisingly resulting in increased disposal of waste at the household level. In 2008, on average, each citizen threw away 434 kilos of household waste. Of this, only 227 kilos were sorted (SSB1, 2009). Although there is an increased awareness of how to use common resources on earth sustainably to secure future generations the same possibilities as today’s generations, we face the situation of a social dilemma. This is represented by the beneficial effect for society when all cooperates and contributes with desired behavior, which is here sorting of household waste, whereas for the individual, it is not rational to cooperate with sorting, as he or she reaps the benefits of other’s contribution anyway. Hence, although sorting has been regarded as a moral act, if everyone thinks and acts according to reaping the greatest benefits individually, society loose, and a collective choice problem has appeared. Therefore, policies must be developed to promote socially desirable behavior since there seems to be a competition between rationality anchored in what is best for society, a ‘we-focus’ versus a rationality anchored in what is best at an individual basis, the ‘I-focus’. From January 2009, it is no longer legal to deposit organic waste, something that has led authorities to developing waste regimes for increasing sorting at source. Each municipality could, however, decide what kind of regime to develop and use. Ulstein, a municipality located in the south of Møre and Romsdal, Norway, introduced a differentiated fee on unsorted waste, to increasing incentives for sorting. The system is based on weighing households’ unsorted waste when collected, which is taxed with 2.24 NOK per kilo in addition to a moderate flat yearly fee (1356 NOK in 2009). Turning to theory, one finds different explanations for what motivates behavior when introducing an economic incentive. In this study I have mainly made use of neoclassical economic theory, classical institutional theory, and theory from social psychology. According to the neoclassical assumption, behavior is guided by external incentives, and individuals should not voluntarily be sorting household waste because it represents a cost in time and effort. Therefore, as the economic incentive is introduced, one expects a different response; no sorting now represents a cost through the fee and, accordingly, individuals will earn more if they sort by paying less. The classical institutional position, on the other hand, takes its point of departure in societal values based on moral and ‘the right thing to do’. Sorting of household waste is regarded as a moral contribution to society, which, by the introduction of an economic incentive, may be undermined by a shift in logic of why one is sorting. Nevertheless, there are different aspects contributing to explaining behavior. Habits are found by the social psychologists to play a substantial role because it represents routinized behavior, which may not be based on continuous reasoning of why undertaking an act. The institutional position also recognizes habits, but finds habits to stem from conventions and norms. Lastly, how individuals perceive themselves or wish to be perceived by society may contribute to explaining behavior, by focusing on feelings within the individuals when acting in accordance with what is seen as morally right. The goal of this thesis has been to investigate the effects of the waste regime in Ulstein, and its effect on motivation, and hence, behavior, to see what motivates sorting of waste at the household level. This is specified through the following research questions: 1. What is the level of waste sorting in Ulstein? Has it changed with the introduction of the new regime? 2. What motivates sorting of household waste in a regime using an economic incentive to promote sorting? 3. What role do motivational factors play when explaining waste sorting behavior? And how could a change in fee affect sorting? Information about the households’ motivation and behavior related to sorting of waste has been collected through a web-based survey. The sample exists of 197 randomly chosen households in Ulstein. It is a quantitative study where the results are based on findings from statistical analyses of data. The results are represented by a sample with an overrepresentation of males, 66%, where 67.5% of the respondents are in age level 40-66 years. 43.7% holds a university degree, and 90.9% of the respondents live in houses. The findings from the study shows that the motivational factors for sorting of household waste are economic incentives, personal norms, social norms and encouragement from the authorities. The regimes infrastructure also seems to play a role for respondents to increase or begin sorting of household waste. Knowledge about the attributes of the regime and attitude toward it did not prove to be a statistical significant factor for explaining behavior. Neither did neighborhood institutions. There exists no numbers on earlier levels of household waste for comparison, but after the implementation of the new regime in January 2009, making use of a differentiated fee, 48% of the respondents states they have increased their sorting level. 51% of the respondents have stated their sorting level to be high, 20% that they are sorting quite much, and the rest rather low: 28%. Hence, there is still a potential for improvements. When looking at sorting of different waste categories, categories that are arranged for at source by the regime, like paper and plastic, are sorted at a high level. Categories that the individuals have to arrange for he or her self, by bringing to return points, have a slightly lower sorting level. Organic waste, a category that needs to be arranged for at source by the individual when not arranged for by the regime, is sorted at a very low level. Nearly half states they are not sorting any of their organic waste, and this represents a challenge for the regime. When asking about how hypothetically changes in the differentiated fee would affect sorting level, 26% states they would increase sorting and 54% would continue sorting at present level if it was increased from 2,24 NOK to 5,00 NOK, whereas if decreased to 0,50 NOK, 76% would maintain and 10% would increase. The findings show that motivation clearly is important for explaining behavior. In this study economic incentives have been found to be a significant factor for explaining behavior together with personal norms and habits. Theory suggests a crowding out of personal norms when introducing economic incentives. I cannot conclude whether or not there has been a crowding out as the incentive may have led to a compensated level of sorting. If hypothetically decreasing the fee, on the other hand, would lead many to decreasing their effort, a crowding out effect could have been observed since a low fee would equal just a minor incentive, and hence, those solely motivated by the incentive would lower their efforts.