Impact of recycling education on the knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of grade school children, The

impact of recycling education on the knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of grade school children, The

Jeffrey M Smith

A Pretest-posttest design measuring the effects of two versions of a paper recycling education program on knowledge, attitudes and behaviors of third, fourth, fifth, and sixth graders from private and public schools was employed. Results indicate that the program improved children’s knowledge, attitudes, and behavior toward paper recycling, with greater improvements occurring in private schools and with older grade school children.

A number of school systems have instituted environmental education programs to increase environmental awareness among their students. The primary goals of these programs are to increase environmental knowledge, instill proenvironmental attitudes, and encourage proenvironmental behaviors. Many of these programs operate under the general premise that if one changes global environmental attitudes and beliefs this change will impact a large number of proenvironmental behaviors (Bell, Fisher, Baum & Greene, 1996). Unfortunately, this premise has not always been supported by the research findings (Lipsey, 1977; Fortner & Teates, 1980). While the education programs seem to enhance awareness and change attitude and a specific behavior is weak (Diamond & Loewy, 1991). One of the main reasons for this is the lack of consistency between a general attitude and a specific behavior (Bell, Fisher, Baum & Green, 1996). As a general rule attitude and behavior congruency occurs primarily when a specific attitude is closely linked to a specific behavior (Bell, Fisher, Baum & Greene, 1996).

Other issues of interest for environmental educators are the characteristics of the target population and the pedagogical approach of the curriculum. It has been suggested that environmental awareness education is most effective on younger pre adolescent children who do not have wellestablished environmental habits (Asch & Shore, 1975). It is also possible that a more hands on experiential approach may be more effective in changing attitudes and behaviors than a primarily knowledge based presentation.

This study assessed the effectiveness of a short duration recycling education program that attempted to link specific environmental knowledge and attitudes towards paper recycling with the paper recycling behavior of grade school children. It was expected that students would demonstrate improved recycling knowledge, more prorecycling attitudes, and engage in more recycling behaviors after experiencing the education program. Three variables that may have an impact on the effectiveness of the education program were also explored. These variables were type of school (public or private), grade level at time of presentation, and classroom presentation or field trip to a landfill.



The sample consisted of 349 students in grade three through six attending public and private schools in the city of Cincinnati. The recycling education program was part of an ongoing education effort sponsored by Keeping Cincinnati Beautiful. The program was presented to students in response to an invitation by the school’s science curriculum faculty. Two versions of the paper recycling education program were used. The first consisted of a classroom presentation which stressed basic knowledge of how paper is recycled, the need for recycling and some suggestions as to how students can reuse paper. Version two of the program was similar to the classroom presentation but the knowledge portion focused primarily on landfill composition and included a tour of a local landfill. The classroom presentation was administered to 200 students. The landfill program was experienced by 149 students.


Two forms of the knowledge measures were developed based on the programs curriculum. One form assessed knowledge of paper production and recycling and the other form assessed knowledge of landfill composition and recycling. The attitude questionnaire consisted of 6 statements pertaining to paper recycling. Students indicated their level of agreement with each statement by placing a mark on a five-point Likert scale with alternatives ranging strongly agree to strongly disagree. The most prorecycling answers were worth five points and the least prorecycling answers were valued at one point. The behavioral measure consisted of a self-report account of prorecycling behaviors that the student engaged in during the past week. Prorecycling behaviors were operationally defined as a reduction in the use of a paper (writing on both sides of the paper), reusing paper for other purposes (scrap paper), or recycling paper.


Data were collected from September, 1994 through March, 1995. Knowledge, attitude, and behavior surveys were administered two days before or immediately prior to the education program. The questionnaires were group administered with standardized instructions. Post-knowledge measures were administered immediately following the presentation. Post-attitude and behavioral measures were obtained 7 – 14 days after the education program.

Scores on knowledge measures consisted of the percent correct. Scores on the attitude measures were computed based on the students’ level of agreement with the 6 statements concerning paper recycling and landfill composition. Scores on behavioral measures consisted of the total number of proenvironmental behaviors that the student engaged in during the past week. These scores ranged from 0-3.


Dependent t-tests were used to test for the impact of the program on each of the dependent measures. Significant differences were found for each of the dependent measures, with greater knowledge, prorecycling attitudes and behaviors recorded after the recycling program, see Table 1.

Significant differences were found for program type with more prorecycling attitudes and behavioral changes occurring as a result of the landfill visit compared to the classroom discussion, see table 2.

Intercorrelations between change scores for attitudes, behavior and knowledge were computed for each type of program. For the classroom presentation there was a significant correlation between knowledge and behavior (r = .16, p

Significant differences were found as a function of grade level, with 5th and 6th graders having greater knowledge, attitude and behavioral changes than the 3rd and 4th graders, see table 3.

For school type it was found that private school students had more knowledge, prorecycling attitudes and behaviors than public school students, see table 4.

For private schools, attitude changes were found to be correlated with behavior change (r=.20, p


As expected, the recycling education program significantly increased students recycling knowledge, created a more positive attitude toward recycling and increased the number of recycling behaviors. Given that the education program was of a relatively short duration and the large number of other influences on attitudes and behavior, the fact that a brief program produced significant differences is promising. It appears that a well constructed short-term education intervention which focuses on specific behavioral recommendations aimed at grade school children can impact behavior.

The program version differences would seem to indicate that a good field trip illustrating the consequences of not recycling on landfills is a more effective way of increasing recycling behavior, while a classroom discussion lends itself more to increasing student knowledge.

The finding that older grade school children exhibit more prorecycling attitude changes and behaviors than younger children indicates that their may be a critical period just prior to adolescence in which students are most amenable to the efforts of environmental educators. This would indicate that environmental education efforts should target older grade school children for maximum benefit.

The fact that private school students exhibit more prorecycling attitudes and behaviors than public school students may reflect a broader socioeconomic difference. Although socioeconomic status was not recorded for the current sample, it appeared that the private school students tended to be more affluent and racial homogeneous.

Overall these findings support the idea that environmental education that focuses on school age children and closely links environmental knowledge with specific behaviors can be affective.


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Bell, Fisher, Baum & Greene (1996). Environmental Psychology (4th ed., pp. 533-538). Fort Worth, TX.: Harcourt Brace.

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Diamond, W.D. & Loewry, B.Z. (1991). Effects of probabilistic rewards on recycling attitudes and behavior. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 21, 1590-1607.

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Lipsey, M. W. (1977). The personal antencendents and consequences of ecologically responsible behavior: A review. JSAS Catalog of Selected Documents in Psychology, 7, 70-71.


Psychology Northern Kentucky University Highland Heights, Kentucky 41099


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