Public Perception Matters: Individual Waste Sorting in Chinese Communities

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Waste sorting behavior, Public perception, Motivation crowding theory, Central government, Local government

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Individual waste sorting is necessary for effective, efficient waste management. Despite active government interventions, waste sorting has achieved limited success in China. Previous research provides contradictory theories and mixed evidence of the relationship between perceived environmental governance and individual waste sorting behavior. Some researchers argue that perceived environmental governance enhances individual engagement by offering a supportive atmosphere, whereas the crowding out thesis suggests that it undermines intrinsic motivation and suppresses participation. This study suggests that the controversy is partially attributed to people's varying expectations for central and local governments. Multivariate analyses of nationally representative data in China show that a positive evaluation of local government motivates individuals’ sorting behavior, whereas the perceived effective environmental governance of the central government decreases individual engagement, net of demographic and socioeconomic factors. Additionally, people in danwei and affordable housing communities who perceive the central government's environmental governance to be effective are more likely to sort waste. Institutional trust and the involvement of local actors may lead to differential outcomes. These findings suggest that waste sorting results from systematic evaluations of both individual preferences and institutional settings, and effective environmental governance requires more nuanced measures to evoke intrinsic motivation, preferably at the community level.

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Resources, Conservation and Recycling, v. 159, art. 104860