3 Reasons why Young People Don’t Recycle

It’s no surprise that 18-34 year olds have the most pro-environmental attitudes compared to older age groups. What’s less expected, however, is that this isn’t following through to action. Even the simplest, most accessible behaviours (including those that cost nothing, such as recycling) are less likely to be carried out by this age group.

One outcome of this is that the average number of items that young people recycle at home is significantly lower than for those aged 35 and older.

What will make young people recycle more?

According to the findings of our Great Green Sustainability Study, encouraging this generation to recycle more requires a two-pronged approach combining both education and motivation. Here’s why.

This age cohort have the lowest level of claimed knowledge about recycling. Given that this generation have grown up with the concept of recycling, this seems counterintuitive, underlining the importance of gathering research data and not relying on assumptions! The actionable insight that can be drawn from it is that initiatives which boost young people’s confidence in what they can recycle and how to do it would be particularly effective.

On top of this, if behaviour change can be established now with young people, its impact will be felt for the longest time. This ‘double whammy’ means that investing in education campaigns aimed specifically at them has the potential for the greatest results.

But… knowledge has to be turned into action and young people often struggle here, and that’s why increasing their motivation is so important. We found that this age group are more likely to follow-through with action if they feel everyone else is doing it. 43% of 18-34 year olds claim that it’s not worth them doing things to help the environment if others don’t do the same (compared with 30% of the population as a whole).

Young people are also more likely to claim the environment is low priority compared to other things in their lives (45% compared with 35% across all age groups). This suggests that campaigns should encourage mass involvement, but the actions they promote must be convenient and not detract from other things that young people find important. Unless this is achieved, this age group simply won’t dedicate themselves to the cause.

Key points

  • 18-34s have most pro-environmental attitudes but recycle less
  • Education and motivation are key to increasing their recycling behaviour
  • Campaigns should promote mass participation in behaviours that are compatible with young people’s daily lives.

To find out more about our Great Green Sustainability Study, contact Tom Gould, Head of Consumer, on tom.gould@impactmr.com

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