Predicting pro-environmental behavior: Analyzing variables related to plastic waste separation behavior of young people
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Changes in human behavior towards pro-environmental actions and choices are needed to protect the environment. Various approaches that aim to steer behavior exist, including for example policies that provide cost-benefit related incentives or policies in which information is provided. However, to understand the effectiveness of these different types of policies, it has to be understood which factors determine whether people will have the intention to perform pro-environmental behaviors. One example that shows the importance of behavior for the success of a policy measure is the separation of plastic waste. In the Netherlands recycling plastic waste is relatively new in comparison to other materials and increasingly encouraged. However, the success of increasing plastic waste recycling still highly depends on the behavior of the public. Also particularly important is the understanding of behavior of young people. This generation faces current and future environmental issues, but is less engaged in pro-environmental behaviors than older age groups. Therefore, the aim of this research is to identify the factors that predict pro-environmental behavior regarding separating plastic waste among young Dutch citizens. Potential important factors are derived from the theory of planned behavior (TPB) as described by Ajzen (1985). This theory states that the intention to act is the most important predictor of behavior, which in turn is preceded by attitudes towards the behavior, subjective norms and perceived behavioral control. Moreover, the role of knowledge concerning the behavior and costs required to perform the behavior are studied as well. Also interaction effects with attitudes and these concepts are taken into account. The strategy of this study is survey research, in which data from 269 university students is obtained through a new developed questionnaire. The data is analyzed with multiple regression analyses. The results of this study show that attitudes, subjective norms, perceived behavioral control and costs are significant predictors of intention (p < .01) and that these factors explain R2 = .54 of the variation in intention scores. The intention to separate plastic waste predicted the actual behavior (β = .90, t(267) = 32.82, p < .000). Knowledge scores and interactions were not significant. It can be concluded that the theory of planned behavior can be validated and complemented by taking the role of costs into account. The results imply that campaigns based on solely raising knowledge might not be effective, although awareness raising campaigns which focus on aspects that do predict behavior, i.e. the concepts of the TPB, might be. Reducing costs required to perform the behavior is also likely to be effective in order to stimulate pro-environmental behavior.