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Knowing What It Makes: How Product Transformation Salience Increases Recycling

Knowing What It Makes: How Product Transformation Salience Increases Recycling

Karen Page Winterich, Gergana Y. Nenkov and Gabriel E. Gonzales

JM Insights in the Classroom

Teaching Insights:

Making people think about the products made from recyclables (e.g., what recyclables are transformed into) inspires them, increasing recycling rates.

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Related Marketing Courses: ​
Consumer Behavior; and Marketing Communications; ​​​​

Full Citation: ​
Winterich, Karen Page, Gergana Y. Nenkov, and Gabriel E. Gonzales (2019), “Knowing What It Makes: How Product Transformation Salience Increases Recycling”, Journal of Marketing, 83 (4), 21-37.

Article Abstract
Recycling campaigns abound, but do consumers think about what becomes of those recyclables? This research proposes that product transformation salience (thinking about recyclables turning into new products) increases recycling. We theorize that consumers are inspired by the transformation of recyclables into new products, and this inspiration motivates them to recycle. We demonstrate the effect of product transformation messages on recycling behavior using a recycling campaign (Study 1) and advertisements for products made from recycled plastic (Study 2). Study 3 demonstrates the mediating role of inspiration. Then three field studies provide robust support for the transformation salience effect via click-through rates for recycling advertisements (Study 4), recycling rates during pre-football game tailgating (Study 5), and a reduction in the amount of recyclable material incorrectly placed in the landfill bin by students in a university residence hall. Implications for the design of recycling campaigns and positioning of recycled products in the marketplace are discussed, as well as theoretical contributions regarding the role of transformation salience and inspiration in encouraging recycling and other sustainable behaviors.


Special thanks to Kelley Gullo and Holly Howe, Ph.D. candidates at Duke University, for their support in working with authors on submissions to this program. 

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Karen Page Winterich is Professor of Marketing and Frank and Mary Smeal Research Fellow, Smeal College of Business, Pennsylvania State University.

Gergana Y. Nenkov is Associate Professor of Marketing and Haub Family Faculty Fellow, Boston College, USA.

Gabriel E. Gonzales is a doctoral candidate in Marketing, Smeal College of Business, Pennsylvania State University.