Journal Article

Alternative Policies to Increase Recycling of Plastic Water Bottles in the United States

W. Kip Viscusi, Joel Huber and Jason Bell

in Review of Environmental Economics and Policy

Published on behalf of Association of Environmental and Resource Economists

Volume 6, issue 2, pages 190-211
Published in print July 2012 | ISSN: 1750-6816
Published online July 2012 | e-ISSN: 1750-6824 | DOI:
Alternative Policies to Increase Recycling of Plastic Water Bottles in the United States

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Using an original, nationally representative sample of plastic water bottle users, this article examines the efficacy of various policy mechanisms to increase recycling. We evaluate the impact of bottle deposits and the stringency of a state’s recycling laws on the provision of recycling opportunities and on recycling rates. Using household-level data and controlling for the type of recycling legal regime as well as the bottle deposit policies in each state, we find that mandated separation of recyclables, the availability of a recycling center in the community, and the provision of curbside pickup at houses or recycling locations at apartments increase recycling rates. Furthermore, we show that recycling opportunities are substitutes for each other. For example, although deposits for plastic water bottles and curbside recycling separately increase recycling rates, their impacts are each less pronounced if both policies are in place. Moreover, the efficacy of these policies exhibits a discontinuous effect on household behavior, with effective laws and deposit policies transforming nonrecyclers into diligent recyclers. An examination of two states before and after their deposit laws were altered to include plastic water bottles shows that changes in recycling laws do generate changes in recycling behavior. (JEL: Q28, K32)

Journal Article.  10228 words. 

Subjects: Environmental Economics

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