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2011-02-04 | project

Impact of uncertainty and pro-social attitudes on household’s solid waste management decisions: starting from scratch in a LDC

This project addresses whether increasing uncertainty about the beneficial consequences of collected waste or other aspects of the collection-recycling process affect contribution levels and in turn prosocial attitudes.

 

Solid waste management is a severe environmental problem in many urban areas in the developing world. In particular, Costa Rica has been faced with an increasing amount of waste generation, with one quarter of total waste being collected and disposed by households only. Therefore, a good understanding of households as the source of waste generation and their response to policy incentives is necessary to achieve effective and efficient environmental protection (Bartone and Bernstein, 1993; Pearce and Turner, 1994).

 

The separation and proper disposal of waste at the household level is costly - messy and time consuming- yet the benefits of recycling are public in nature. Households are typically uncertain about benefits gained through proper waste management because they have incomplete knowledge about how others act, about the degree of environmental damage associated with inadequate disposal and about how government efforts complement individual efforts. Under the assumption that individuals are fully rational and act in a self-interested manner, free-riding emerges as the predicted strategy with respect to household solid waste management. This leads to an emphasis on the impact of income and prices on recycling behavior, which has had great influences on the design of efficient and effective environmental policies to stimulate recycling. Still, free riding comes at the price of violating the socially accepted behavior. Research in economics and social psychology suggests that other factors than prices and income, such as social interaction (i.e. concerns about self-image or social reputation, intrinsic motivation) and uncertainty, shape individual decision making. So far, many developed countries have managed to achieve a balance between economic and behavioral incentives in order to encourage proper disposal of waste. Such aspects should also be an integrated part of policy analysis for waste disposal and recycling in LDC countries.

 

In order to know which specific policies can be implemented to reduce the environmental impact of household disposal behavior, our goal is to investigate the importance and emergence of pro-social attitudes on households’ willingness to contribute to solid waste management and recycling activities. This involves giving attention to both, informal norms and uncertainty and their impact on self- or other-regarding behavior. Not only are we interested in the separate effects of concerns for social reputation but also on their interaction with uncertainty. So far, very few studies have experimentally analyzed the effect of uncertainty to examine concrete instances of pro-social behavior in social dilemma situations. Additionally, policy recommendations focus solely on the supply side of waste management policy in the form of investments in the formal and informal sectors. A discussion on pro-social behavior and its relationship to institutional quality is left out and solutions addressing demand management measures are not offered.

 

This project addresses whether increasing uncertainty about the beneficial consequences of collected waste or other aspects of the collection-recycling process affect contribution levels and in turn prosocial attitudes. The main purpose of this research is to identify the implications that follow from these behavioral assumptions for the selection of specific environmental policy instruments for solid waste management. We aim to collect experimental and empirical data to illustrate our theoretical arguments and test our hypothesises in the context of solid waste management practices in urban areas of Costa Rica. Alternative institutions based on behavioral findings can thus be identified and used to guide innovative demand driven policy including insights from other-regarding preferences.