Fostering a More Sustainable World through Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle: The Role of Perceived Value in a Circular Economy

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Virginia Tech


The last few decades have seen an explosion in population growth and along with this growth we have also witnessed an increase in demand for products. Although our resources are limited, consumers' needs know no bounds. It is not surprising that we are also increasingly demanding more from our environment. It is therefore imperative that we make better use of our resources and reassess how we construe a product's lifecycle. Instead of a linear perspective, which typically follows a product's lifecycle from mining of raw materials to manufacturing, but then stops when products are trashed, we need to use a circular perspective, where we focus on the entire lifecycle of products, from not just manufacturing to usage, but also from usage to creation of new products through recycling. The focus of this dissertation is on understanding two important processes in the circular economy: that of usage and disposal. I focus on the role that consumers' product valuations play in these processes. In essay 1, I show that consumers value products made from recycled materials more than comparable regular products. I also document why this happens and demonstrate how this affects usage. In essay 2, I investigate the relationship between reuse and product disposal. The circular economy is based on what is now referred to as the 3R approach: reduce, reuse, and recycle. However, I show that consumers are more (vs. less) likely to trash products that they have used extensively (vs. rarely). This then leads to a conundrum: if we encourage consumers to reuse products extensively, it appears that they are more likely to trash them. It is therefore imperative that we understand this relationship better and find interventions to mitigate this negative relationship.



circular economy, sustainability, recycling, value, transformation, product usage, product disposal