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No Clue About Bioplastics

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Research in Europe shows that many people are unsure how to adequately dispose of plant-based bioplastics so that they can best be recovered in the waste stream.

Abstract: We analyze recycling decisions for bioplastics using a natural field experiment. Bioplastics have environmental benefits – such as reduced energy use in production and enhanced biodegredation – compared to conventional plastics. Recycling decisions that are not consistent with government guidelines, however, may cause a rebound effect. For instance when biobased plastics contaminate organic waste streams, or compostable plastics contaminate plastics waste streams. The environmental benefits of these new plastics may be offset by the damage caused by such recycling decisions. The field experiment that we set up to test this recycling behavior exploits the setting of a lemonade tasting. In our experimental treatments, subjects are exposed to different types of bioplastics logos on their lemonade cups as well as varying amounts of recycling information. We use two types of bioplastics and compare these to conventional plastics in terms of whether subjects recycle the cups according to guidelines. Our results show that over 90% of subjects dispose of their cup with plastic waste, which is not the intended waste stream for some bioplastics. None of our treatments can snap subjects out of this default behavior. We interpret this finding as subjects having no clue how to recycle bioplastics.

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