Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Using Coupon Incentives in Recycling Aluminum: A Market Approach to Energy Conservation Policy

Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Using Coupon Incentives in Recycling Aluminum: A Market Approach to Energy Conservation Policy

Article excerpt

In the 1990s energy conservation and environmental issues have returned to the forefront in developing sound public policy. While interest appeared to dwindle during the 1980s, numerous studies in the 1970s suggested the conserving behavior of consumers as an alternative solution to energy-related problems (e.g., Belch 1979; Brooker 1976; Cook and Berrenberg 1981; Delprata 1977; Leonard-Barton 1981; McClelland and Canter 1981; Milstein 1977, 1979; Montgomery and Leonard-Barton 1977; Olsen 1981; Stern and Kirkpatrick 1977). While ecological concerns may encourage consumers to develop recycling behaviors as a means of energy conservation and social responsibility, economic self-interest may also be important (Allen, Calantone, and Schewe 1982; McClelland and Canter 1981; Richie and McDougall 1985).

Every consumer is a potential conserver. Techniques to foster voluntary social behavior and direct public policy initiatives need to be identified. Rather than relying exclusively on traditional methods of public regulation (i.e., legal sanctions, taxes, subsidies, public information, and community action), social marketing techniques (Henion 1981; Kotler and Zaltman 1971) hold potential for increasing conservation behavior. The purposes of this study are to examine the effects of demographic variables, previous recycling experience, attitudinal variables, and economic incentives on the voluntary recycling of aluminum.


While it is recognized that one must use aluminum containers to be able to personally recycle (assuming one does not recycle others' containers), aluminum recycling was selected for the study because it constitutes a substantial component of disposable waste for a broad segment of consumers (Fuller and Allen 1991). Its high value-to-weight ratio, ease of separability, and energy-saving potential (Chandler 1984; Jacobs and Bailey 1982-1983) make aluminum a logical target for social marketing research. As an energy intensive product, aluminum recycling translates to more than a 90 percent energy savings (Hill 1977) with less pollution.

In a typical year, Americans discard nearly 50 billion aluminum cans (Oregon Department of Environmental Quality 1988). Furthermore, it has been estimated that in 1988 alone, over two and one-half million tons of aluminum waste was generated with approximately 31.7 percent of this waste being recovered for reuse (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1991). As a result of the pervasive use of aluminum containers in the American lifestyle, aluminum recycling has become an object of state and municipal legislation either in the form of container deposit bills or trash separation ordinances (Sjolander and Chen 1989).

To develop a successful recycling program, public acceptance is essential (Mulligan and Powell 1979). In states where container and bottle deposits are mandatory, consumers have exhibited a gradual acceptance of the programs over time (Chen and Sjolander 1988; Crosby, Gill, and Taylor 1981; Crosby and Taylor 1982; Murphy 1974; Sjolander and Chen 1989). More recent studies of curbside recycling programs estimate high (80-90 percent) participation rates by community residents (Fuller and Allen 1992; Glenn and Riggle 1990). Participation and support for mandatory return systems suggest that legislative solutions to the conservation issue may be accepted by the public. However, the potential of a market approach for stimulating conservation behavior and its impact on consumers' dispositions may provide additional suggestions for policymakers.

Several motivational considerations are likely to be influential in consumers' acceptance of recycling behavior (DeYoung 1985-1986, 1986). Studies exploring attitudes toward energy conservation have found that consumers who support conserving behaviors are largely sympathetic toward environmental issues and feel responsible for helping solve energy-related problems (e. …

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