British Columbia

Earth Day: Recycling, reducing measures need to be convenient for people, prof says

UBC prof says people already know the impact and benefit of measures such as recycling, but won't do it because they are pressed for time, find it too complicated, or are simply too lazy.

UBC prof says education and awareness aren't enough — real change requires actions that aren't burdensome

A UBC prof says actions like composting and recycling need to be even more convenient for more people to actually follow them. (Getty Images)

Earth Day encourages the protection of the environment, but on this day — and the other 364 days of the year — there will still be many who won't use reusable cups, cut down their driving or compost and recycle.

That's because it's not convenient enough, says a professor who studies the psychological reasons why people take environmental action.

"Awareness alone is not enough to change behaviour, we actually need to provide solutions, suggestions, alternatives to current practice so that people can actually change," said Jiaying Zhao, an assistant professor at UBC's Institute of Resources, Environment and Sustainability and the department of psychology

"Most people already know, they know the impact, the benefit of these actions. They don't do it because of all sorts of issues — like no time, it's too burdensome, it's too complicated, it's just 'I'm too lazy.'"

Education alone is not enough, prof says

Zhao said, for example, having to walk through multiple doors through a building to take out recycling or compost is prohibitive.

"For the passionate … we will recycle and compost regardless of the walk, but that's not the case for the majority of the public," said Zhao, who added that her research has shown that simply moving bins closer to one's home and making the "travel distance shorter" increases the rate of recycling and composting by over 130 per cent.

She said the same applies for other behaviours  — such as driving, and diet — and not just waste reduction and energy use.

"If I want to eat less meat, does the menu have more veggie options or not? These solutions may not necessarily involve education or just raising awareness alone."

Zhao said Earth Day serves a purpose by raising awareness, but is not enough.

"It is so insufficient," she said. "It's one day, it's called Earth Day in a year that we talk about earth. I think Earth Day should be everyday, we should be constantly aware of our own footprint, our own impact on the environment."

With files from CBC's B.C. Almanac

To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: Changing people's attitudes on environmental issues requires more than just awareness, prof says


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