A dissertation submitted to the Graduate Faculty in Earth and Environmental Sciences

in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy,

The City University of New York




x     Printed on 100% Recycled Paper


© 1999





All Rights Reserved




This manuscript has been read and accepted for the Graduate Faculty in Arts and Sciences in satisfaction of the dissertation requirement for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.


________________    ___________________________________________________

Date                                         Co-Chair of Examining Committee, Prof. Victor Goldsmith

________________     __________________________________________________

Date                                         Co-Chair of Examining Committee, Prof.  Sara McLafferty                                       

________________    ___________________________________________________

Date                                                              Executive Officer, Prof. Frederick Shaw



Member of Examining Committee, Prof. Cherukupalli Nehru                                              



















Marjorie J. Clarke



Advisors:  Professor Victor Goldsmith and Professor Sara McLafferty



To advance waste prevention research, this study tested two environmental shopping educational campaigns in Manhattan supermarkets to impart information and motivation to shoppers, expecting that the knowledge gained would engender new, environmental shopping habits. The effectiveness of the campaigns was evaluated using baseline and follow-up surveys of hundreds of the same shoppers at two stores, before and after receiving two levels of educational treatment (brochures, signs, and video).  Answers to survey questions were analyzed using a range of statistical techniques including tabulations, cross-tabulations, mean differences between pairs, and path analysis. 


Central objectives were to evaluate the campaigns' effectiveness in changing shopping behaviors, to compare the results of the campaigns to one another, and to examine the impact made by each of the educational devices.  Features differentiating the campaigns employed here from previously tried approaches were their implementation in small, crowded, ultra-urban supermarkets, sale of diaper service in the stores, and showing of videos.


The survey data provided insight into what extent environmental awareness, attitudes, and behaviors of shoppers changed after exposure to environmental shopping campaigns.  Shoppers at both stores increased purchases of refills and concentrates (10 to 20%), the already frequent recycling of cans and bottles increased slightly (~5%), and bringing deposit containers back increased (~15%).  However, other desired environmental shopping behaviors decreased; purchasing of recyclable packaging decreased roughly 12%, and no one signed up for diaper service. 


Path analyses showed that shoppers' environmental behavior was influenced only slightly by the amount of environmental knowledge they possessed, and that their behavior was influenced considerably more by their environmental attitudes and unknown factors outside the campaign.


The limited success in changing behavior, and the difficulties of implementation in an urban environment, lead to recommendations to improve store-based educational campaigns, supplemented with legislation and incentives encouraging manufacturers and retailers to market more environmentally-friendly packaging and products.  Compared with recycling, waste prevention represents a new set of behavior patterns for most people.  Environmental shopping programs should deploy more types of educational devices and approaches varying over extended periods, in an intensive manner, with cooperation of host stores, and augmented by media advertising campaigns.



The author wishes to thank the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region II for supporting waste prevention research by funding this research project; the Red Apple supermarket chain for agreeing to provide two stores in which to conduct the environmental shopping campaigns; the Gristede’s store managers and Red Apple staff that assisted in campaign implementation; the General Health Care Corporation for cooperating with the effort to market diaper service in the stores; and the Environmental Action Coalition for its support in materials design and attracting volunteers to assist in data collection.  The efforts of the following individuals were instrumental in various aspects of the study:  Duane Ebesu, for his invaluable assistance in statistical analysis; Irv Weisman for his assistance during production; Jan Johnson for her assistance in editing and generosity in providing artwork for the brochures; all three for their moral support.  I especially wish to extend my gratitude to Profs. Victor Goldsmith, Sara McLafferty, Cherukupalli Nehru, Florence Lansana, Robert Graff, and Arthur Langer, the present and past members of my dissertation committee, for their encouragement and advice.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1    Statement of the Problem                                                                    1        


Introduction                                                                                                     1

The Solid Waste Hierarchy                                                                             2

Solid Waste Management Methods and Their Environmental Impacts            5

General Research Objectives                                                                          22


Chapter 2   Conceptual Design and Literature Review                                          27


Consumer Behavior and Advertising                                                              27

Research Hypotheses                                                                                      29

Basic Project Parameters                                                                                29

Research Design Considerations                                                                     30

Experimental Design                                                                                       33

Design of the Data Gathering Effort                                                                53

Parameters for the Design of the Educational Campaign                                 88

Summary of the Experimental Design                                                              102


Chapter 3 Project Planning: Methodologies for Designing and Evaluating

            the Effectiveness of the Campaign                                                              105


Survey Design, Testing, and Administration                                                   107

Design and Administration of the Volunteer Diaries                                       117

Design and Administration of the Storewide Purchases Data Gathering         118

Design / Selection of the Educational Materials and Campaign                      122

Advance Planning for the Campaign                                                               138


Chapter 4    The Educational Campaign                                                                  141


Campaign Summary                                                                                         141

Campaign Experiences – East and West Side Stores                                      142

Placement / Maintenance of Educational Materials in the Stores                    145


Chapter 5    Results, Analyses, and Findings                                                           164


Baseline Survey Results                                                                                  164

Follow-up Survey Results                                                                               173

Bag Results                                                                                                     179

Diaper Results                                                                                                184

Refills and Concentrates Results                                                                     189

Survey Analyses                                                                                              193

Findings and Discussion                                                                                 224


Chapter 6    Comparison of Results with Other Research                                     246


Cornell / Ulster County, NY                                                                            246

University of Illinois at Urbana / Champaign – Model Community                 250

Minnesota                                                                                                        253

Boulder                                                                                                           255

Suffolk County, NY                                                                                         259

Michigan                                                                                                         262

San Francisco                                                                                                  267

Other Research                                                                                                280


Chapter 7    Conclusions and Recommendations                                                     283


Conclusions                                                                                                     283

Recommendations                                                                                           299



Appendices                                                                                                                 307


Appendix A     Supermarket Surveys                                                                           307     

Appendix D     Cost of Diapers                                                                                   316     

Appendix DG  Survey Data Gathering Effort                                                              325

Appendix DM Display of Educational Materials                                                       331

Appendix E     Survey Objectives, Designs, Questions, and Findings                        332

Appendix FA   Factor Analysis                                                                                   378

Appendix G     Evaluation and Selection of Educational Foci                                    384

Appendix I      Incineration Technology and Impacts                                                  396

Appendix L     Landfill Technology and Impacts                                                        440

Appendix M    Project Indoctrination Letters to Managers and Cashiers                    472

Appendix Q     Questionnaires                                                                                    475

Appendix R     Waste Generation and the Hierarchy, Reduction, Reuse                     486

                        and Recycling

Appendix SA   Summary of Analyses                                                                          506

Appendix SP   Methodology for Tracking Storewide Purchases                                523

Appendix ST   Baseline and Follow-up Survey Testing and Refinement                    526

Appendix VD  Volunteer Diaries                                                                                549

Appendix W    Selection and Adaptation of Survey Questions                                   563

Appendix X     Discussions with Designers of Environmental Shopping Materials    586

Appendix Z     Educational Materials                                                                         595



Bibliography                                                                                                               605

List of Tables


1.               Projections of Population, Goods and Packaging Generated in the U.S.            19

Waste Stream

2.               Projections of Recyclables Generated in the U.S. Waste Stream                       19

3.               Baseline Survey Results – Demographics                                                          164

4.               Baseline Survey Results -- Knowledge                                                              166

5.               Baseline Survey Results -- Source of Knowledge                                             167

6.               Baseline Survey Results -- Attitudes                                                                  168

7.               Self-Reported Behaviors                                                                                   172

8.               Follow-Up Survey Results -- Knowledge                                                          174

9.               Follow-Up Survey Results -- Attitudes                                                              176

10.            Follow-Up Survey -- Self-Reported Behaviors                                                 178

11.            Bag deliveries                                                                                                    181

12.            East side bag sales                                                                                             182

13.            Baseline and Follow-Up Survey Bag Results                                                    183

14.            Baseline and Follow-Up Survey Diaper Results                                               188

15.            Baseline and Follow-Up Survey Results – Refills and Concentrates                 190

16.            Follow-Up Survey -- Recollection of Education                                               193

17.            Selected Cross-tabulations of Race vs. Attitude and Behavior               195

18.            Selected Cross-tabs of Hispanic Origin vs. Attitude and Behavior       197

19.            Selected Cross-tabs of Education vs. Attitude and Behavior                  198

20.            Selected Cross-tabs of Gender vs. Attitude and Behavior                       199

21.            Selected Cross-tabs of Age vs. Attitude and Behavior                            200

22.            Importance of Mandatory Recycling Law in Motivating Attitudes / Behavior Amongst Demographic Groups: Means                                                       201

23.            How Often Do You Bring a Reusable Bag With You?:  Means

           Comparison Amongst Demographic Groups                                             201

24.            If You Were Offered Two Cents Would You Bring You Own Bag?                  202

25.            Changes in Behavior vs. Extent of Educational Intervention                              213

26.            Changes in Knowledge vs. Extent of Educational Intervention                          214

27.            Changes in Sources of Environmental Information vs. Extent of                        215

            Educational Intervention

28.            Survey Variables Comprising Composite Variable: KNOWLEDG                   218

29.            Survey Variables Comprising Composite Variable: ATTITUDE                      219

30.            Survey Variables Comprising Composite Variable: BEHAVIOR                     220

31.            Intrinsic Motivations for Recycling / Source Reduction                                    268

32.            Elements of San Francisco 1997 Shop Smart Campaign Noticed                      277

33.            Behavior Change from 1996 to 1997 San Francisco Shop Smart Campaign      277

34.            Recollection of Main Message of San Francisco Campaigns: 1996/1997         278




List of Illustrations





1.        Model of attitude change and behavior change through communication                68


2.        Potential Topics for Survey Questions                                                                  84


3.        Path Analysis for Composite Knowledge, Attitude, and Behavior Variables      221


4.        Path Analysis for Factor Knowledge, Attitude, and Behavior Variables             223



Chapter 1


Statement of the Problem





In the late 1980s the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), many states, and environmental groups came to recognize that there was a massive solid waste crisis looming in the near future.  The causes of the crisis, as seen at that time, were that the amount of landfill space was suddenly decreasing markedly, and that the resource recovery plants (state-of-the-art solid waste incinerators) that had started to proliferate were not entirely environmentally benign, and were becoming more difficult to site.  At the same time, the quantity of waste generated was increasing every year, due to increases in population and to per capita increases (i.e., the amount each person generates).  Also, although other more environmentally sound waste management methods, such as recycling and composting, had just begun to be implemented in curbside and drop-off programs across the country, these have not made much of a dent in the long-term solid waste crisis.


As the 1990s draw to a close, the consumption of products and packaging is continuing to rise on a per-capita basis, and disposal capacity, particularly in cities such as New York City, is dwindling.  Where real estate has been at a premium, cities have increasingly started to choose what they consider to be a simpler route than developing local solid waste management capacity:  export.  But this option involves the additional expense and environmental impacts associated with truck, train, and barge transportation of refuse.  Waste-importing states are showing increasing reluctance to accept ever-increasing quantities of waste, particularly from cities that have not exhausted their capacity to reduce, reuse, and recycle, choosing instead to conserve more of their own future disposal capacity. 


An alternative to exporting all material that is not recycled is to design and implement incentives, programs, legislation and technologies that reduce the amount of materials that are generated, that cause products to be used longer prior to disposal, and that encourage more recycling/composting and use of recycled materials.  While such initiatives will not, in the short term, come close to eliminating the need for disposal capacity or export, implementation of serious, multi-faceted approaches to these alternatives to disposal may well serve to facilitate the task of locating communities willing to provide disposal capacity, now and in the future.  In the long run, reversing the trend towards increasing consumerism and the disposable society will be necessary to conserve resources for the future and to maintain a higher standard of living.  It was with these objectives in mind that this research project was designed:  to explore the extent to which consumer behavior can be modified to reduce the generation of waste.


The Solid Waste Hierarchy


In 1988 EPA established as national policy a hierarchy of solid waste management methods[1] as follows:

1.           Source reduction (reducing the generation of waste by reducing use of products or packaging) and reuse (together referred to as waste prevention).  Source reduction and reuse research, policies, programs, and legislation would be pursued to the fullest, to reduce both the volume and toxicity of the waste remaining,


2.           Then, for the waste which remains, recycling and composting facilities and programs would be designed to maximize recovery of those recyclable and compostable materials left in the waste stream after reduction, and to maximize the recycling of wastes containing toxic constituents,


3.           Incinerators, equipped with the state-of-the-art technology and operated in optimal fashion at all times to minimize toxic emissions, would be designed to accommodate the wastes which are not reduced, reused, recycled, or composted.  Slightly lower in the hierarchy are incinerators without energy recovery, and as a last resort,


4.           Landfilling would be restricted only for residues from recycling, composting, and incineration processes.


The hierarchy was devised to reflect the relative desirability of each method, from an environmental point-of-view.  Methods, such as recycling, composting, reuse, and waste reduction lessen or eliminate many of the environmental impacts for landfilling and incineration (described below), and were considered environmentally preferable to them.  The hierarchy of management options was arranged with the recognition that no single method could or should be used to the exclusion of all others, as had been the case with landfilling or incineration.


Despite the fact that these were the two least used methods to manage solid wastes, EPA stated that in order for there to be adequate management of wastes in the future, it would be necessary:


(1)     to maximize source reduction and reuse of consumer products, for example, manufacture and purchase by consumers of less packaging, fewer disposables, and more durables, and

(2)     to maximize the amount of materials diverted from the waste stream for recycling. 


The New York State legislature agreed to establish a waste management hierarchy and passed the ambitious Solid Waste Management Act [2] that required all municipalities across the state to submit integrated solid waste management plans for the next ten years.  The stated goals for 1997 were 40-42% for recycling and composting and 8-10% for waste prevention, with the remaining 50% for incineration with energy recovery.  Landfilling was to be used only for residues from recycling and incineration (ash).  Waste generation patterns and all the solid waste management methods are discussed in greater detail below.


In order to achieve these waste prevention and recycling goals, it would be necessary to put into place extensive recycling infrastructure (for collection, sorting, processing, and manufacturing recycled-content products).  But equally important, increasing recycling rates and decreasing waste generation rates requires instituting social engineering systems (i.e., programs, legislation, and incentives that motivate citizens and companies to separate materials for recycling and to adopt a set of behaviors that would result in a lower waste generation rate).  A key focus of social engineering systems would be to convince consumers to change their purchasing habits so that they reliably buy (and demand) reusable, durable, less toxic, recycled, and recyclable products and packaging.  However, although reduction and recycling are the preferred waste management methods, and all levels of government have agreed on these objectives (and even the average citizen typically responds positively to environmental polls and questionnaires), there is little hard data on consumer willingness to override other considerations in purchasing (e.g., convenience, price, brand, attractiveness, etc...) and buy “green”.  Since consumers have the ultimate power to implement prevention and recycling, it is important that they receive adequate education in these areas and be motivated to change their habits.  This is the focus of the present study.



Solid Waste Management Methods and their Environmental Impacts


In addition to the fact that government and environmental organizations have supported the hierarchy, and that it is legislatively required in some places, there are short- and long-term environmental reasons for promoting waste prevention and recycling methods.  For every ton of waste recycled, there is one less ton that would otherwise be disposed of in incinerators and/or landfills with their impacts to air, water, and land. The same is true for every ton of waste that is not generated in the first place, or that undergoes reuse or refurbishment into like-new product.  Wastes collected and shipped by fossil fuel-driven trucks, barges and trains cause impacts to air, water and land, consume water and energy resources, resulting in traffic congestion and accidents.  Waste prevention reduces or avoids all these impacts.  Use of garbage trucks requires siting of transfer stations, which are noisy and dusty, involving more congestion.  Thus, waste prevention and recycling directly reduce environmental impacts caused by landfilling and incineration. 


One of the main arguments for placement of waste prevention and recycling at the top of the solid waste management hierarchy, is that the environmental costs of production are several times greater than the environmental costs of solid waste management.[3]  Long-term environmental impacts are reduced by recycling, reuse and reduction (the 3 R’s), because fewer virgin resources are needed to manufacture a smaller quantity of products and packaging. The 3 R’s preserve some or all of the intrinsic nature of discarded items (e.g., the product value, natural resources), whereas they are largely lost when landfilled or incinerated. For example, simple waste prevention practices, like using less paper by copying double-sided, or bringing a reusable bag to the supermarket, avoid the need to mine as much oil or harvest as many trees, thus preserving those natural resources.


The new, evolving technique of lifecycle assessment suggests that production of packaging and products involves depletion of resources (energy, mineral, natural, and water), and impacts to all environmental media (air, water, land, life) generated by resources extraction, shipping, refining, manufacture, and marketing.  All of these impacts are minimized by reducing production, and by reusing and recycling packaging and products.  A crude estimate of important environmental benefits associated with producing a ton of paper made from 100% recycled waste paper instead of virgin fiber, indicates a saving of 17 trees, 7,000 gallons of water, 60 pounds of air emissions, and 4100 kwh of energy, and consumes 30% - 55% less energy than making it from virgin pulp.  The important environmental benefit on the waste disposal end of the lifecycle that occurs when recycled, rather than virgin fiber is used in production, is the savings of roughly three cubic yards of landfill space per ton and the emissions and leachate which production of that ton of paper would have produced.[4]  Environmental costs (i.e., emissions, ashfill space) would be avoided if the paper had not gone to an incinerator. 


From a system-wide view, recycled production plus recycling produces the lowest emissions of all but one of the major categories of air pollutants. For example, it has been found that incinerator stack emissions of heavy metals are several orders of magnitude higher than those from operations of materials recovery facilities (recycling sorting plants).  Recycling at a 26% rate reduces methane emissions by an amount equal to 24.2% of total methane emissions from all U.S. landfills (of the total 10.2 million metric tons of methane emissions).  Solid waste output from recycled production plus recycling is 32.9% lower than it is from incineration or landfilling of virgin materials, due to reductions in industrial process wastes.  Use of recovered materials rather than virgin materials in manufacturing results in 1000 pounds less solid waste per ton of material manufactured.  Recycled production plus recycling uses considerably less energy than virgin production plus incineration, and virgin production plus landfilling uses the most.  Specifically, recycling reduces energy use by an amount equal to the energy used by almost 9 million households (895 trillion BTUs). [5]


Thus, on the front end of the product lifecycle, for every ton of product or package that is not generated to due waste prevention systems and recycling, fewer natural resources (e.g., fossil-fuels, metals, water, soil, forests) are consumed (and in some cases, irreversibly depleted).  For each ton of product not manufactured due to waste prevention efforts, there are numerous avoided environmental costs to air, water, land, and ecosystems (e.g., in the extraction of natural resources, their refining, manufacturing, packaging, marketing, and transporting these from their sources in the environment to refineries, manufacturing plants and to distributors, markets, and consumers).  In the case of composting, resources are not only preserved, but soil resources are restored to the environment. 


On the back end of the lifecycle, recycling and waste prevention results in a net reduction of emissions, effluents, and leachate, and prevents degradation of land caused by incineration and landfilling.  Methods such as reduction and recycling decrease the amount of waste requiring disposal, reducing the amount of land resource impacted.  If, as part of an overall waste prevention strategy, reduction in the use of toxic constituents is achieved, the quantity of toxics emitted into the air and introduced into the ash from incinerators is reduced.


Landfilling is lowest on the hierarchy, and is considered to have the greatest environmental impacts, because it produces impacts to air, water, and land, but also because the energy, mineral, water, and other natural resources utilized in production of products and packaging are largely wasted when the product is disposed in landfill.  Modern incineration also involves impacts to air and, to a lesser extent, to water, as well as to land in the management of ash residue, recovers some energy resource, but, loses the natural resources and production value in the materials and products when they are burned.  Recycling and certain reuse processes (e.g., remanufacturing of durable products) also have environmental impacts (e.g., due to processing and/or refining of the recyclable or reusable materials).  However, since recycling, remanufacturing and reuse processes obviate the need for extraction and refinement of virgin materials, this environmental benefit offsets some of the environmental impacts caused by recycling, remanufacturing and reuse processes.  In addition, recycling and reuse options retain the intrinsic value of the materials (e.g., paper, wood, glass, metal) and products processed.  As great as the savings in natural resources and avoidance of environmental degradation are with recycling, waste prevention saves even more since fewer products and less packaging are made in the first place, and more of the environmental costs of both production and waste collection and processing are avoided.  Source reduction practices reduce waste generation at the source, and they typically eliminate the need for extraction of resources, refinement, manufacturing, and product transport, as well as need for collection, treatment, shipping, and disposal of wastes.  As a result, waste prevention and recycling create fewer net environmental impacts than do incineration and landfilling.  



The predominant method of solid waste management in the U.S. has always been burying solid waste, and it is the most common method of solid waste disposal used in the U.S. as of 1995, handling about 57% of the waste stream.  Landfilling has been steadily decreasing since peaking in 1985 at 83%, falling to 67 percent in 1990, down to 62 percent in 1993. As of 1995 there were 2,535 landfills, but while the number of landfills has been declining in recent years, the capacity has remained relatively constant.  New landfills are much larger.  At that time, thirty-seven states had more than 10 years of capacity left, while nine had between 5 and 10 years left, and two had less than 5 years left. [6]


The intrinsic value of the materials and products disposed in landfills is lost.  Most landfills produce a myriad of impacts to the ground and surface water quality and water supplies, due to the leaching of organic acids, heavy metals and other compounds.  Landfills also emit large quantities of greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide and trace amounts of many toxic carcinogens such as vinyl chloride and benzene. The extent of environmental impacts has been significant, having been responsible for contamination of community water supplies.  Landfills are also considered to be a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions globally.  The emissions from landfills and their local impacts on human health and their long-term, global impacts on climate are now being assessed. 


Over the years the technology of landfilling has progressed slowly from the most basic, inexpensive and rudimentary dumping to state-of-the-art “Sanitary Landfill” which employs a daily cover of soil, multiple liner systems, leachate collection and treatment systems, leak detection, landfill gas collection and treatment systems, and air quality monitoring.  Occasionally, landfill gas utilization equipment is installed to make use of the natural gas extracted from the landfill.  When the newer environmental controls are used, the environmental impacts are lessened, but this transition is still in process, as government regulations are under development. As more is learned about the extent of air quality impacts from landfills, and as New Source Performance Standards for landfills are phased in over the coming years, it is likely that landfills will become harder to site.  Landfilling will become more expensive, and continue to decline.  USEPA predicts that although the tonnage of waste going to landfills will increase in absolute terms from 118,390 in 1995 to 119,080 in 2000 to 125,370 in 2010 along with increasing population and per capita generation rates, landfilling as a percentage of waste generated will fall further, from 56.9% in 1995 to 53.7% in 2000, to 49.6% in 2010. [7]  For more discussion about the processes associated with and the environmental and health impacts of landfills, see Appendix L.



The advent of the solid waste hierarchy occurred almost contemporaneously with the transition from the old-style incinerators (i.e., those that do not recover energy, and do not have advanced emission control systems) to today’s state-of-the-art incinerators.  Also at this time the public began to recognize an increasing severity of global and local environmental deterioration, engendering a rising public displeasure against incinerators and a call for increased prevention, recycling, and composting.  Some plans for new waste-to-energy (WTE) plants in the U.S. have been scrapped because of objections over emissions; others have been scaled down in size because of the success in recycling programs (leaving less waste for the WTE plants).  Still other incinerators, designed for 100% or more of the waste stream, have had to beg nearby communities for waste when their recycling programs became successful, in order to receive enough waste (and tip fees) to satisfy facility debt requirements.  At the present time few new incinerators are being planned; most activity is in the retrofit of existing incinerators to meet new national MACT standards.  The pendulum is swinging back towards landfilling for wastes not considered to be recyclable or compostable.


Incineration rates have been inconsistent over the last few decades.  In 1960 incineration (albeit in antiquated low-efficiency units) burned 31% of the Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) generated.  In 1980 incineration was down to 9%.  By 1995 incineration had recovered to 16.1% of total generation, about the same as in 1990.  At present there are 112 mass burn WTE plants (98,733 tons per day design capacity), 12 Refuse Derived Fuel plants (5,988 tpd), and 19 incinerators without energy recovery (2,751 tpd) with 11 new WTE plants being planned or constructed (11,310 tpd).  The total tonnage sent to incinerators is projected to increase over the next 10 years or so, from 33.47 million tons in 1995 to 36 million in 2000 to 39 million in 2010, rising in absolute terms with increasing population and per capita generation rates.  As a percentage of the waste stream, EPA predicts that by 2000 combustion will remain fairly constant at 16.2% of the waste stream, but by 2010 combustion will decrease slightly to 15.4% due to closure of older plants, due to the expense of new regulations. [8] 


The environmental benefits from incineration fall into just a few categories.  Energy is recovered in WTE plants (usually in the form of electricity, but occasionally in the form of steam).  It is a small fraction of the amount of the energy consumed in the extraction, transportation, production, and marketing of the products and packaging consumed in the incinerator.  Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) plants are designed to extract glass and metals, via automated means, for recycling from the waste stream prior to incineration.  The predominantly paper and plastic waste that remains is prepared into fluff or pellets of RDF for incineration.  Mass burn plants (that burn unsorted MSW) sometimes are designed to remove ferrous metals from the bottom ash via magnets, but the quality of the charred metals is of limited economic value.


The environmental impacts from incineration mainly result from emissions and ash, but the loss of the intrinsic value of the products and materials fed to the incinerator should not be overlooked.  Incineration of a heterogeneous waste stream results in emissions of heavy metals (e.g., mercury, lead, cadmium, and chromium), toxic chlorinated and other organic compounds (e.g., chlorobenzenes, chlorophenols, dioxins, and furans), acid gases (e.g., HCl, SO2, NOx and HF), carbon monoxide, and particulate matter.  These contribute to ground-level ozone and acid rain, as well as to urban air quality problems.  Both mercury and dioxin are seen as global pollutants, and EPA has targeted incinerators as a major contributor to both contaminants.  The predominant emissions from incinerators (CO2 and water vapor) are not locally deleterious to the environment, but contribute to global impacts from greenhouse gases.  State-of-the-art incinerator technologies, designed to burn wastes efficiently and to reduce emissions as much as technologically feasible, and operating practices, to maximize combustion and emission control efficiency, advanced rapidly during the 1980s and early 1990s.  Appendix I provides more detail on incinerator emissions and technologies to minimize them.


Incinerator ash is created when wastes are burned.  The wastes, consisting largely of metals, glass and ceramics, do not burn and become part of the bottom ash.  More combustible wastes, such as paper and plastics, food, yard waste, and wood, are predominantly organic in nature, producing CO2 and water vapor.  These wastes also contain impurities such as chlorine, nitrogen, and heavy metals, which contribute to emissions and leave the incinerator or are captured in emissions control devices.  The captured emissions mix with reagents used in emissions control and become fly ash. Fly ash typically contains more heavy metals than bottom ash, and is therefore more toxic.  For this reason, European incinerators are configured to keep the two ash streams separate so that the fly ash may be treated as a special waste.  In the United States the two ash streams are usually mixed to dilute the toxic effects of the fly ash in the more benign bottom ash.  Mixed ash is typically deposited in landfills or in dedicated ashfills.  The environmental impacts from ash management start in the incinerator, where poor management can result in workers inhaling ash that is not contained under wet conditions.  Similarly, ash leaking or blowing into the air from trucks transporting it from the incinerator, produces unwanted emissions.  Once at the landfill, ash can blow away if not kept wet, and as rainfall percolates through the ash, it contributes pollutants directly to groundwater, most often via leaching of heavy metals.


Recycling and Composting

From the national perspective, recycling and composting are used to manage 27% of the waste stream as of 1995 [9].  Recovery of materials was estimated to be 22.4% for recycling and 4.6% for composting in 1995, projected to rise to 24.8% and 5.3% respectively in 2000, and to 29.15 and 5.9% respectively in 2010, up from 17% for both combined in 1990.   The growth of recycling is illustrated in the per capita amount of discards after recycling and composting, which has started to decrease after having peaked at 3.59 pounds per person per day in 1990.  This is projected to fall to 3.03 pounds per person per day in 2010, again reaching the 1970 level of 3.04 lb/person/day.[10]  This indicates the inroads these two waste management methods are projected to have in offsetting increases in waste generation rates in the near future.  However, it is not likely that increases in recycling and composting alone can offset increases in waste generation indefinitely.


The national recycling figure of 27% underestimates what has been achieved in many localities that have higher state or local recycling, composting, and reduction requirements or goals.  Some states (e.g., New Jersey, New York, California) have had recycling goals of 50 - 60%, and an increasing number of localities have already achieved “3 R’s” diversion rates of 50%. (e.g., Hennepin County, MN, Newark, and numerous smaller communities). [11]  See Appendix R for more detail on recycling and composting.


As large as these diversion rates may seem, the ultimate potential for recycling and composting, assuming intensive programs designed to address as many categories of materials, products, and packaging as possible, and to educate the general public and businesses to the greatest extent feasible, is quite a bit higher.  An extensive 46 material-sort waste composition study done for the New York City Sanitation Department in 1989/1990 showed that 80% of that city’s waste stream was recyclable or compostable and some additional quantity was reusable or repairable.[12]  Half the recyclables were to be targeted in the initial basic curbside program (i.e., newspapers, magazines, corrugated cardboard, plastic bottles and jugs, glass jars, and metal cans), and the rest (food and yard waste, other plastics, other papers, etc…) were to be tested in intensive recycling pilot programs.  By late 1993 NYCDOS had instituted the basic curbside program citywide, and by 1997 the NYCDOS had added mixed papers, phone books, bulk metal items, gray cardboard, and ‘wax paper’ cartons.  At present, a majority of New York City’s recyclable materials are currently targeted for collection in the curbside program (perhaps between 50 and 60%).  By contrast, as of mid-1998, the curbside recycling diversion rate in New York City was 18.3%.[13]  The gap between what is possible and what has been achieved in terms of recycling diversion rate is the participation rate.  Theoretically, if all the people in New York City recycled all that they possibly could, then the diversion rate would rise to equal the 50-60% figure.  Adding more materials to the recycling program (e.g., food waste, which accounted for 12% of the City’s waste stream in the 1990 study) would have a concomitant effect on the potential recycling diversion rate.  The key to improving participation is educating and motivating the residents and businesses in New York City to recycle.


Waste prevention

Despite the changes in the common perception of the causes of the solid waste crisis, from landfill space depletion to incinerator impacts, one truth remains:  the amount of waste being generated is continuing to increase.  The per capita generation of MSW in the US as of 1995 is 4.34 pounds per person per day.  After materials recovery for recycling and composting, discards were 3.17 pounds per person per day, virtually all of which was combusted (0.70) or sent to landfills (2.47).  EPA projects that the per capita generation rate will continue to increase to 4.42 pounds per person per day by 2000, and 4.66 in 2010 (an increase of almost 5.5% in one decade), due to increases in consumption of material goods.  By contrast, the population is projected to increase by 1.0% in the decade from 1990 to 2000 and 0.8% from 2000 to 2010.  EPA projects the absolute quantity of waste generated in the US will increase due to both per capita and population increases.  All of these increases will be due to increases in the consumption of material goods and packaging, as shown in Table 1, primarily made of paper and plastic, as shown in Table 2. [14]   At the same time, as more goods and packaging require management as waste, certain mineral and energy resources and forests that are used to manufacture the packaging and material goods are being depleted in various parts of the world.


Looked at from a historical perspective, in 1960 only 88 million tons of MSW were generated (42% of today’s waste generation rate), or 2.6 pounds per person per day (60% of today’s per capita rate) with negligible recycling rates. In order to achieve real waste prevention, as required in some states, the MSW generation growth rate must be stopped and reversed.  Not only will the projected increases in per capita generation rates have to be eliminated, and the projected increases in population overcome, but additional measures to reduce consumption further will also be needed.  The solution to the long-term solid waste crisis is not merely to devise a way to site more incinerators and landfills, but to figure a way for society to stabilize the human population and reduce each person’s consumption of goods and packaging.



Table 1   

Projections of Population, Goods and Packaging Generated in the U.S. Waste Stream






U.S. Population (millions)




Durable Goods* (millions of tons)




Nondurable Goods ** (millions of tons)




Packaging and Containers (millions of tons)




Other wastes *** (millions of tons)




Total  (millions of tons)





*  Durables are goods designed to last at least three years (U.S. Commerce Dept. definition)

**  Nondurables are designed to last less than three years, and may be disposables or single-use items.

*** Other wastes are predominantly food and yard wastes.




Table 2            Projections of Recyclables Generated in the U.S. Waste Stream

                                    (millions of tons)


























Yard Waste








Rubber & Leather










Despite the fact that waste prevention is needed, and that it has been designated the most preferred waste management solution in the hierarchy, it receives the least funding for research as well as for implementation.  Recycling has become a household word, but source reduction, reuse, and waste prevention are misunderstood by the public.  Municipal waste management departments have traditionally preferred to have uncomplicated, “silver bullet” disposal solutions, of which the agency is in complete control.  Landfilling was simple, and, relative to recycling, waste-to-energy was seen to be a straightforward solution.  Both disposal options involved feeding unprocessed waste onto the ground or into a furnace.  Sanitation departments initially resisted recycling and composting because they required cooperation by the public, new types of trucks, processing stations, and marketing of secondary materials, much of which was new and unfamiliar.  But over the last ten years or so, some barriers to instituting recycling have been overcome as the public has come to support it, though lack of optimization in integrated collection systems and lack of perseverance and innovation in educating the public have been construed to make recycling seem less economically attractive than it could be.


Waste prevention involves reducing the generation of waste by a myriad of methods in which both consumers and manufacturers participate.  Examples of these include: 


·       maximizing the manufacture, purchase, use and repair of products and packaging that has lower volume and/or toxicity, higher durability, and

·       optimizing the design of products and packaging for repair, reuse, and recyclability, and reducing purchases of disposables and their packaging. 


EPA expressed an interest in this area, and stated in 1989 that in order to attain the national goal of 25% reduction and recycling of MSW by 1992, three goals would have to be accomplished: 

(1)  government initiatives will have to be created on the state and local levels,

(2)  government and industry will have to establish markets for recyclables, and

(3)  household, government, and industry attitudes and behaviors will have to change to increase availability and purchase of products and packaging that promote source reduction and recyclability. 


In a report on the subject of promoting source reduction and recyclability in the marketplace[15], EPA stated that more research is necessary in this area since the relationships between education and change in behaviors is complex and  poorly understood.  Such research would provide industry, government, and consumer groups with greater understanding with which to design more effective strategies for promoting source reduction and recyclability of products and packaging.  Examples of research that EPA believes is necessary include the following:


·       design of informational strategies to promote intrinsic (satisfaction-based) motives to conserve,

·       design of strategies which combine intrinsic and extrinsic (incentive-based) motives to produce more durable behavioral change,

·       determination of variables, not directly related to attitudes, which affect consumer behavior, and

·       determination of the degree to which an increase in consumers' quality of life results from adopting environmentally-appropriate behavior.


Since the EPA made these recommendations in the late 1980s, relatively little has been done, by EPA or others, to educate the public in this area.  As a result, waste prevention is often confused with recycling.  Despite evidence that waste prevention programs are considered to be more cost-effective than any other waste management solution because there is no need for collection, processing or disposal infrastructure,[16] governments at all levels have consistently placed waste prevention programs at the bottom of their spending priorities.  As a result of this lack of funding, waste prevention remains a major frontier in solid waste management research.  See Appendix R for more detail on waste prevention methods. 


General Research Objectives


In order to address the clear need for a greater understanding of and motivation to implement waste prevention, this project was conceived as a means


·       To research, design and implement, at a small number of appropriate venues in New York City, all aspects of a program to  test the effectiveness and the most advantageous methods of implementing alternative means of maximizing waste prevention and recycling. 

·       To evaluate this method of imparting information and motivating consumers to change their purchasing patterns to reduce waste and increase recycling potential, and


·       To measure and compare the absolute and relative effectiveness of  two alternative testing programs using standard statistical techniques.


Specific objectives and parameters for this project are:

·       To design and test the effectiveness of two environmental shopping campaigns, which would educate shoppers about the relationship between their actions and the environment, specifically, on the merits of their purchases, as they pertain to solid waste prevention and recycling, providing shoppers with information about alternative purchases and their relative environmental impacts,


·       To develop more specific information on effective consumer education techniques (i.e., those which produce measurable results) than that available heretofore, so that more effective in-store environmental education programs might be implemented.  Such features of a successful and replicable in-store educational program would include the type, quantity, and distribution of brochures, signage and other educational devices, as well as methods of communication with store management to maximize the visibility of educational materials,


·       To document whether, and under what circumstances, consumers will put into practice source reduction and recycling objectives learned as a result of educational programs conducted in stores as demonstrated by their purchases of consumer products at retail stores,


·       To measure any changes in consumer awareness of and attitudes towards environmental issues before and after being educated about the solid waste management implications of their purchases in retail stores,


·       To determine the features of a successful and replicable in-store educational program (e.g., type, quantity, and distribution of signage, environmental criteria used, questionnaires, methods of communication with store management, etc.) and


·       To test whether and the extent to which environmental shopping can be successfully taught in small, crowded Manhattan supermarkets.


This investigation should facilitate a much-needed glimpse into consumer attitudes and behaviors, a very important factor in the success of waste prevention and recycling measures.  Specifically, this program design should provide an indication of environmental attitudes of shoppers, and whether, and to what extent, their attitudes and behaviors can be modified as a result of environmental shopping education campaigns or ongoing programs, and what it takes to make those changes.  Other useful information to be acquired will include the effects of demographics on attitudes and purchasing behavior before vs. after the education, where consumers get their environmental information, and how sophisticated the shoppers are before vs. after the education.  Perhaps most important, this study design should permit the acquisition and analysis of data on the effectiveness of alternative environmental shopping educational programs in an inner city environment.  These results should provide a contribution to the existing body of knowledge in this field.


To assist, financially, in this endeavor, a solid waste research and demonstration grant was procured in 1991 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region II.  The original deadline for the project’s completion was early 1993, and this was extended to late 1994 (which did affect the scheduling of the educational campaign).  The financial conduit, the Environmental Action Coalition, participated by attracting volunteers to collect survey data.  The benefits of the research will be provided not only to EPA, but also should be helpful in communicating effective consumer education techniques to municipalities and states desiring to implement consumer education programs to maximize reduction and recycling.  The information from this investigation should also be of value to those in private sector supermarkets and chains in predicting the success of new environmental shopping programs they might institute.  Where there are already existing environmental shopping programs, the information produced by this study could improve the effectiveness of such programs.  Thus, the results will be provided to industry trade associations, such as the Food Marketing Institute, which could distribute it to their member stores.  Finally, it is intended that the results of this study will be communicated to the research communities involved with solid waste prevention and management as well as environmental behavioral research.


The balance of this dissertation will describe the research hypotheses and review literature pertaining to consumer psychology, environmental attitudes and behaviors, and previously-conducted environmental shopping campaigns (Chapter 2), the methodology by which the environmental shopping campaigns and the modes of their evaluation were designed (Chapter 3) and implemented (Chapter 4), the presentation and analysis of the results (Chapter 5), the comparison of the results with other, similar research (Chapter 6), and conclusions and recommendations made based on the results.


Chapter 1      Chapter 2     Chapter 3       Chapter 4       Chapter 5       Chapter 6       Chapter 7


[1]              "The Solid Waste Dilemma: An Agenda For Action", Report of the Municipal Solid Waste Task Force, Office of Solid Waste, US Environmental Protection Agency, February, 1989.


[2]              New York State Solid Waste Management Plan, 1987-88 update. NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Solid Waste, March 1988.

[3]              Schall, John. "Production and Disposal Impacts of Packaging Materials: a Critique of the Tellus Institute Study", Panel Discussion at the 8th Annual Conference on Solid Waste Management and Materials Policy, New York, NY.  January 31, 1992


[4]     "Characterization of Municipal Solid Waste in the United States:  1994 Update", USEPA Municipal and Solid Waste Division, EPA/530-S-94-042, November, 1994.


[5]              Denison, Richard A. “Environmental Life-Cycle Comparisons of Recycling, Landfilling, and Incineration:  A Review of Recent Studies”., Annual Reviews Energy Environment. Volume 21, pp. 191-237.  1996.

[6]     "Characterization of Municipal Solid Waste in the United States:  1996 Update", USEPA Municipal and Solid Waste Division, EPA/530-R-97-015, June 1997.


[7]     "Characterization of Municipal Solid Waste in the United States:  1996 Update", USEPA Municipal and Solid Waste Division, EPA/530-R-97-015, June 1997.


[8]              "Characterization of Municipal Solid Waste in the United States:  1996 Update", USEPA Municipal and Solid Waste Division, EPA/530-R-97-015, June 1997.

[9]              "Characterization of Municipal Solid Waste in the United States:  1996 Update", USEPA Municipal and Solid Waste Division, EPA/530-R-97-015, June 1997.


[10]            "Characterization of Municipal Solid Waste in the United States:  1996 Update", USEPA Municipal and Solid Waste Division, EPA/530-R-97-015, June 1997.


[11]            Clarke, Marjorie. “Municipal Solid Waste Management:  The Integrated Approach”, a video by Air and Waste Management Association, 1994.


[12]            A Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Plan for New York City and Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement, Appendix Volume 1.2 Waste Stream Data, New York City Department of Sanitation.  August 1992.


[13]            Larry Cipollina, “Residential Recycling Diversion Report for June 1998”, NYCDOS Memorandum. August 25, 1998.


[14]            "Characterization of Municipal Solid Waste in the United States:  1996 Update", USEPA Municipal and Solid Waste Division, EPA/530-R-97-015, June 1997.

[15]            "Promoting Source Reduction and Recyclability in the Marketplace:  A Study of Consumer and Industry Response to Promotion of Source Reduced, Recycled, and Recyclable Products and Packaging", prepared for Richard M. Kashmanian, USEPA, Washington, DC September, 1989.


[16]            A Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Plan for New York City and Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement,  New York City Department of Sanitation.  August 1992.