Knowing What It Makes: How Product Transformation Salience Increases Recycling

Karen Page Winterich, Gergana Y. Nenkov, Gabriel E. Gonzales

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Scopus citations


Recycling campaigns abound, but do consumers think about what becomes of those recyclables? This research proposes that product transformation salience (thinking about recyclables turning into new products) increases recycling. The authors theorize that consumers are inspired by the transformation of recyclables into new products and that this inspiration motivates them to recycle. The authors demonstrate the effect of product transformation messages on recycling behavior using a recycling campaign (Study 1) and advertisements for products made from recycled plastic (Study 2). Study 3 demonstrates the mediating role of inspiration. Then, three field studies provide robust support for the transformation salience effect through click-through rates for recycling advertisements (Study 4), recycling rates during pre–football game tailgating (Study 5), and a reduction in the amount of recyclable materials incorrectly placed in the landfill bin by students in a university residence hall (Study 6). The authors discuss implications for the design of recycling campaigns and positioning of recycled products in the marketplace as well as theoretical contributions regarding the roles of transformation salience and inspiration in encouraging recycling and other sustainable behaviors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-37
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Marketing
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2019


  • inspiration
  • product transformation salience
  • recycling
  • sustainability
  • waste audit


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