Synthesizing the economist’s and the psychologist’s approaches to litter control for sustainable waste management


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Littering has been a subject of inquiry by environmental economists, as well as social and environmental psychologists, each using a different theoretical and analytical toolkit. While economists see littering as an externality problem or a market failure, psychologists see it as a social behavior problem. Regardless of the discipline, both theories have a common goal: What factors affect littering behavior and how can it be curtailed? This paper, therefore, adopts theory-triangulation approach to review theories concerning littering. It concisely reviews the economist’s and the psychologist’s approaches to littering and their respective solutions. The finding from this review is that the psychological approaches to litter control are narrower in coverage than the economic approaches in that the former are applicable to smaller environmental settings or areas, such as school premises, office places, factories, and market places, as opposed to such lager settings as cities, states or the country at large to which economic instruments are usually applied. Despite the plethora of research extolling the virtues of economic approaches to litter control, their real-world application has not caught on. One of the factors responsible for this is the implementation costs and difficulty involved. The economic instruments are costlier than the psychological instruments, because the former cover a larger setting and entail a lot of bureaucracies. To better understand littering and find appropriate solutions to it, studies on littering should consider looking at littering holistically from this interdisciplinary perspective. Both the economist’s and the psychologist’s approaches to litter control should be synthesized for sustainable waste management. However, policymakers need to consider the available financial resources and the multifarious views of litter in policies relating to litter. An option for policymakers is to minimize those costs associated with implementing economic instruments.

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    • Figure 1. A model of negative externalities