Communication and Commitment Improve Participation in Curbside Recycling in Claremont California

Burn, S. M., & Oskamp, S. (1986). Increasing community recycling with persuasive communication and public commitment. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 16, 1, 29-41.

Claremont California provides city residents with a curbside recycling program. In order to improve participation, a pilot program was designed. Based on a literature review, persuasive communication and public commitment were the behavior change tools incorporated into the pilot. Non-recycling households were divided into 3 conditions: communication, commitment or combined intervention. In addition, a control group served as a comparison. Trained boy scouts gave the non-recycling households an oral presentation about recycling and then gave the households one of the treatments. In the communication group, participants were given a written pamphlet which contained a norm appeal, a moderate fear component and specific action suggestions. For example, the norm appeal emphasized that 80% of Claremont citizens supported curbside recycling. The moderate fear component gave vividly portrayed the amount of garbage produced annually by Californians by describing it as enough to fill a two lane highway ten feet deep from Oregon to Mexico. Then, recycling was offered as a specific action to solve the refuse problem. In the commitment group, participants were asked to sign a pledge card in support of Claremont's recycling program. Furthermore, households were given a sticker which served as a prompt to recycle. Finally, households in the combined condition received both interventions. In order to obtain an objective measurement, the presence of recyclable materials was measured during a six week period both before and after the boy scout visit.


In both the commitment and the combined group, 42% of households began recycling. Thirty-nine percent started participating in the communication group. In contrast, only 11% began recycling in the control group.

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