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The Comparative Effectiveness of Reward and Commitment Approaches in Motivating Community Recycling

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Journal of Environmental Systems, Volume 17, Number 2, p.93-114 (1987)



The relative effectiveness of commitment and incentive techniques in promoting newspaper recycling was compared. Some homeowners were asked to make a formal, signed commitment to recycle newspapers. Others received tokens exchangeable for back-up reinforcers of goods and services each time they recycled. A combined commitment plus token reinforcer group, and an untreated control group were also included. Following five treatment weeks, all the contingencies were removed during three follow-up weeks. While the Commitment condition was more effective on some recycling measures and the combined Commitment + Token conditions was on others, neither group was consistently superior to the other. However, recycling was uniformly greater in both commitment groups than it was in the Token group throughout both phases of the experiment. These findings indicate that commitment techniques have considerable impact in motivating individuals to recycle and that they may be able to overcome some of the limitations often encountered by incentive-based programs in promoting resource conservation.