Think Before You Throw! An Analysis of Behavioral Interventions Targeting PET Bottle Recycling in the United States

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6 Scopus Citations


The United States generates 42 Mt of plastic waste each year and is one of the biggest contributors to ocean plastic waste. Consequently, plastic has become synonymous with the linear economy, and many scholars are studying and proposing circular economy solutions to mitigate plastic pollution. Recycling has received much attention from both social sciences and engineering as a circular economy strategy, but no study has yet quantified how behavioral interventions could asymmetrically affect different populations. This study combines agent-based modeling, material flow analysis, system dynamics, and life cycle assessment to assess the effect of four behavioral interventions on the collection rates of polyethylene terephthalate bottle waste, displaced virgin plastic manufacturing, and avoided greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Results show that, while behavioral interventions would require about 300–900 GJ of additional energy at end-of-life due to improved collection rates, they would avoid about 500–700 thousand metric tons of GHG emissions. Results also illustrate the importance of habits in disposal behaviors and show that different forms of interventions can be better adapted to particular social contexts than others. While the circular economy and its application to plastic waste should certainly not be restricted to recycling, this study demonstrates that improved collection rates and recycling technologies can contribute to reducing the amount of plastic waste polluting our oceans.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number103116
Number of pages12
JournalEnergy Research and Social Science
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Elsevier Ltd

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-6A20-84404


  • Agent-based modeling
  • Circular economy
  • Plastic recycling
  • Recycling behavior


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