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Curbside recycling increases household consumption

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Studies of communities’ recycling programs, rates, and behaviors in North Carolina show that household waste generation increases 6-10% when people have access to curbside recycling. These results suggest that any efforts to increase recycling rates should be coupled with efforts to reduce consumption of “disposable” consumer goods in the first place.

Abstract: The environmental benefits of recycling depend on the extent to which it reduces virgin material consumption, yet there currently is a lack of empirical research on this relationship. This study addresses this gap by leveraging data on variation in the regional adoption of curbside recycling programs in North Carolina between 1999 and 2019. It uses difference-in-differences regression methods with two-way fixed effects to compare solid waste generation between similar communities with and without recycling programs. The study finds that during the study period solid waste generation in North Carolina increased by 6–10 % in the presence of curbside recycling, providing empirical evidence of circular economy rebound on the household level. This result suggests that the current focus of recycling programs and other circular economy activities, which is to increase the availability of secondary resources through collection and recycling, should be complemented by efforts to reduce the consumption of primary resources.

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