A Structural Equation Analysis of the Relationships of Personal Values, Attitudes and Beliefs About Recycling, and the Recycling of Solid Waste Products

ABSTRACT - Although there has been a fair amount of research on the role of personal values in consumer behavior, few studies have addressed the nature of the links between values, attitudes and beliefs, and behavior. This study explores the relationships between personal values, attitudes and beliefs about the recycling of solid waste products, and recycling behaviors, using a causal modeling framework. Consistent with previous structural modeling work by Homer and Kahle (1988) on values and health food purchases, this study shows that attitudes and beliefs provide a mediating role between the abstract values and specific behaviors. Theoretical issues and practical implications are discussed.


John A. McCarty and L. J. Shrum (1993) ,"A Structural Equation Analysis of the Relationships of Personal Values, Attitudes and Beliefs About Recycling, and the Recycling of Solid Waste Products", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, eds. Leigh McAlister and Michael L. Rothschild, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 641-646.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, 1993      Pages 641-646


John A. McCarty, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

L. J. Shrum, Rutgers University - New Brunswick


Although there has been a fair amount of research on the role of personal values in consumer behavior, few studies have addressed the nature of the links between values, attitudes and beliefs, and behavior. This study explores the relationships between personal values, attitudes and beliefs about the recycling of solid waste products, and recycling behaviors, using a causal modeling framework. Consistent with previous structural modeling work by Homer and Kahle (1988) on values and health food purchases, this study shows that attitudes and beliefs provide a mediating role between the abstract values and specific behaviors. Theoretical issues and practical implications are discussed.


Social scientists have been concerned with the importance of values to human behavior for a number of decades (e.g., Kluckhohn 1951; Rokeach 1973; Spates 1983). In recent years, investigators in the area of consumer behavior have likewise turned their attention to the study of personal values. Research has demonstrated relationships between values and a variety of consumer variables including the importance of product attributes, the purchase of a variety of products, and the extent to which individuals engage in socially conscious behaviors such as organ donation (see Homer and Kahle 1988 for a discussion). In general, these studies have shown modest relationships between values and the constructs of interest in particular studies.

One issue is particularly noteworthy concerning most studies relating personal values to consumer behaviors. As Homer and Kahle (1988) point out, studies have tended to focus on the relationship of single values to behavior and have failed to consider value dimensions within a larger theoretical framework. Homer and Kahle further discuss that the nature of the relationships of values to behavior has not been investigated in the context of potential mediating variables such as attitudes. Many studies have simply searched for correlations between values and behavior without considering the complexity of the relationships. The 1988 study by Homer and Kahle is a notable exception in that it examined personal values, attitudes about health foods, and the purchase of health foods within a causal modeling analysis. They discovered an indirect influence of values on behavior, with attitudes providing a mediating role.

Most of the studies relating consumer behaviors to personal values have found relationships in instances where the behaviors are ones that would be expected to be driven by principles. Behaviors such as cigarette consumption, donating organs, and use of health foods would be expected to be related to values. The use of health foods and the consumption of cigarettes presumably relate to one's feelings about health, which would be expected to be value driven. The donation of organs might relate to one's concern for others. In contrast to these types of behaviors, it is not surprising that few, if any, studies have shown strong relationships between values and low involvement consumer behaviors.

Clearly, traditional wisdom would suggest that the extent to which individuals engage in such socially conscious behaviors as donating time and money to charity, giving blood, and buying environmentally safer products would be influenced by their values. The current study selected one such behavior for consideration: the recycling of solid waste items.

Recycling of waste products was selected for two reasons. First, little is currently known about the reasons individuals choose whether to recycle waste items, although there is a growing concern about environmental issues among consumers, marketers, and academic researchers. More research on the antecedents of these behaviors is clearly needed. Secondly, such prosocial behaviors should show stronger relationships with values than less involved consumer activities and, therefore, studying such behaviors should provide a better opportunity to understand the role of personal values in influencing behavior.

The Recycling of Solid Wastes

There is a small but growing literature relating to the antecedents of recycling behavior and other environmentally conscious behaviors. Shama and Wisenblit (1984) examined the relationships of general value orientations and the interest in a number of behaviors including recycling, finding positive relationships between general orientations and specific behaviors. Cialdini, Reno and Kallgren (1990) investigated the complex relationship of cultural and situational norms on littering, showing that the focus of the individual on specific norms is critical to the adherence to norms. Williams (1979) provided a descriptive study on the attitudes and behaviors of college students concerning recycling. Vining and Ebreo (1990) found that knowledge about recycling and perceived inconvenience were related to the extent to which individuals recycled. De Young (1986) investigated the importance of intrinsic motives to recycling. These and similar studies provide pieces to the puzzle regarding recycling, yet none have examined the complex relationships among antecedents.

Although we have stated that values may well be antecedents to socially conscious behaviors such as recycling, it is important to stress that one's basic values likely operate through intervening variables and other situational factors that may also influence such behaviors. A characteristic of many socially conscious behaviors such as recycling is that there are trade-offs between long run societal gains and short run individual needs. Individuals may feel that recycling is important in the long run for society, but they may also feel that it is inconvenient. Therefore, there may be positive and negative attitudes and beliefs about such socially conscious behaviors, both of which may be influenced by a person's personal values.

Overview and Hypotheses of the Study

The intent of this study was to understand the values - attitudes/beliefs - behavior hierarchy in the context of the socially conscious behavior of recycling solid wastes. A specific interest was to understand if and how personal values relate to these behaviors. Nine personal values that relate to different primary motivations in individuals were measured in the study. Attitudes and beliefs that relate to the importance of recycling for society and the inconvenience of recycling for the individual were also measured. It was felt that societal importance and personal inconvenience represented two areas that individuals likely consider when deciding whether to recycle. The behaviors of interest in the study were the recycling of cans and bottles/jars, and the frequencies of these behaviors were provided via self-report.

Similar to Homer and Kahle, it was expected that values would influence the extent to which individuals recycle solid wastes. However, it was expected that the influence of values would work through attitudes and beliefs regarding recycling. This was expected since values are abstract, while attitudes and beliefs should play a more proximal role to behavior. It was expected that both the importance of recycling and its inconvenience would influence the extent to which individuals engage in the recycling behaviors. The importance of recycling should have a positive influence on recycling while inconvenience should show a negative relationship with the behaviors.


Sample and Procedure

The data for the study were collected from undergraduate students at a large state university; participation in the study fulfilled a course requirement. The sample consisted of 89 respondents. The measures for the study were all contained within a questionnaire booklet that respondents completed in a group situation. Respondents were allowed to work at their own pace after being provided with a set of general verbal instructions.


The Kahle (1983) List of Values (LOV) was used as the instrument to measure personal values. The scale consists of nine values that are believed to relate to general motivations people have in everyday life (Beatty et al. 1985). The scale is similar to the terminal scale of the Rokeach Value Survey (Rokeach 1973) in that it measures desired end states in life, but is shorter and easier to administer. The written instructions indicated that the respondents should rate each of the values with respect to importance, using a 1 to 10 scale from "very unimportant" to "very important."

The measures of attitudes and beliefs about recycling were imbedded in a portion of the questionnaire that included questions on a variety of personal and societal issues. Three statements related to the importance of recycling for the environment and three related to the inconvenience recycling may pose for the individual. The belief and attitude statements were measured on 5-point Likert type scales.

The behavior items were included in a part of the questionnaire that asked the extent to which respondents engaged in a number of behaviors. The recycling questions asked how frequently the respondents recycled cans and how frequently they recycled jars and bottles. The behaviors were measured on 5-point scales from "Very Seldom or Never" to "Very Frequently."



The primary statistical tool in this study was structural equation analysis using LISREL 7 (J÷reskog and S÷rbom 1988). LISREL is useful when the researcher desires to explore the causal relationships among a set of variables. [The use of structural equation modeling using LISREL generally requires a sound theoretical developemnt and a large sample size. The sample size in this study was somewhat small, although it approaches the recommendation of Bagozzi (1981) that samples where the number of respondents minus the number of estimated parameters is fifty or greater are acceptable. The authors felt that structural equation modeling was the best approach to understanding the relationships between the constructs. However, given the small sample size and the early stages of theoretical development, the results should be considered with some degree of caution. Given these cautions, parameters that were significant at the p<.10 level are reported as significant.] In the present study, the LISREL analysis employed both a measurement model and a causal equation model simultaneously. That is, the full LISREL model evaluated: 1) the extent to which the observed variables (individual values, attitudes and beliefs, and behaviors) were indicators of the hypothesized underlying constructs, and 2) the strength of the relationships among the latent variables as specified by the paths. Prior to the structural analysis, however, exploratory factor analyses were conducted on the set of nine values and the set of attitudes and beliefs relating to recycling behaviors. These analyses were conducted to get a general sense of the underlying dimensions of the values and to determine if the a priori expectation that the attitudes and beliefs comprise two factors, inconvenience and importance, was tenable.


The exploratory factor analysis of the nine values of the LOV scale indicated that a three factor solution was a reasonable fit for the value scales and these were used in the LISREL analysis that followed. [Space limitations prevent a detailed presentation of the results of the exploratory factor analyses.] The factors are shown in Table 1. The first factor related primarily to internal personal motives focusing on respect/achievement. The second factor related to enjoyment, while the third factor dealt with security. Kahle (1983) has made the distinction between internal and external value dimensions and these three factors are consistent with this distinction. The first two dimensions are internal, with one relating to a desire for respect and the other to enjoyment. The third factor is clearly more external than the first two in that it relates to what we need from other individuals. The exploratory analysis of the beliefs and attitudes indicated that a two factor solution was indeed appropriate for the attitudes and beliefs relating to recycling and these are shown in Table 1. Table 1 also presents the standardized factor loadings and t values for the measurement part of the LISREL analysis. As is apparent from the table, all of the variables loaded significantly on the hypothesized factors.

It was expected that the attitudes and beliefs about recycling would provide a mediating role between personal values and recycling behaviors. This was tested in a model that specified three exogenous variables (the three value factors) and three endogenous variables (the two attitude/belief factors and the recycling behavior factor). It was anticipated that values would show significant relationships with the attitude factors and the two attitude factors would in turn have significant relationships with the recycling behaviors. It was expected that the exogenous value factors would not have direct effects on recycling behaviors. Thus, the paths between the value factors and behavior should not be significant.

Figure 1 presents the full model that was tested and Table 2 provides the standardized path coefficients and the t values of the model. The paths between latent constructs that are significant are indicated by heavy lines.

As is shown in the figure and reported in Table 2, the first value factor (respect/achievement) was negatively related to the inconvenience attitude factor. Thus, the more a person values achievement, self-respect, respect from others, and self-fulfillment, the less he or she is likely to believe that recycling is inconvenient. The enjoyment value factor was positively related to beliefs about the importance of recycling. Therefore, those who value enjoyment and fun tend to believe that recycling is important. The third factor, which represents security and affiliation, was negatively related to the importance of recycling, suggesting that individuals who are security-oriented are less inclined to feel recycling is important compared with those who are less security conscious. Therefore, as expected, values do have influences on the attitudes and beliefs related to the recycling of solid waste. Also as expected, the values did not show direct relationships with recycling behaviors.



It is apparent from the endogenous path coefficients (those between the attitude factors and recycling behaviors) that the convenience of recycling has a much stronger relationship with whether one engages in recycling than does the feeling of importance of recycling. As would be expected, the more inconvenient people feel recycling is, the less frequently they report engaging in such behaviors. The relationship between beliefs about the importance of recycling and recycling behaviors was in the expected direction but far from significant.

The measures of overall goodness of fit for the entire model were acceptable, given the sample size and number of parameters estimated. As Table 2 shows, a nonsignificant chi square was obtained, suggesting the observed covariance matrix was a good estimate of the hypothesized matrix. The goodness of fit index was slightly below the .90 heuristic of Bentler and Bonett (1980), indicating that the fit of the model could be improved. We tested an alternative model where the direct paths between the value factors and recycling behavior were constrained to be zero. This model would allow the value factors to affect behavior only indirectly through attitudes. The alternative model did not differ significantly from the full model (c2 = 91.17, Ddf = 108; c2 = 2.61, Ddf = 3), indicating that this more parsimonious alternative model is a preferred model.


The study reported here provides both a theoretical and practical contribution to understanding the determinants of recycling behavior. From a theoretical perspective, the results of the study conceptually replicate Kahle and Homer (1988) in terms of the relationships between values, attitudes and beliefs, and behaviors. That is, attitudes and beliefs were shown to have a mediating role between behaviors and the abstract values. Values did not show any significant direct relationships with behaviors.

The observed value-attitude relationships make sense from an internal/external value perspective. The external value dimension, which included values that involve other people, was related to attitudes about the importance of recycling to society. However, the direction of the relationship was negative. In other words, the more one valued security, a sense of belonging, and warm relationships with others, the less one thought recycling was important. The reasons for this negative relationship are less than clear. From a social adaptation viewpoint, it could be that recycling is not viewed as a means of fulfilling these end states. On the other hand, the value dimension that included excitement and fun and enjoyment was positively related to the importance of recycling. Although this value dimension is not necessarily external, it does in some ways involve other things, if not other people. Thus, if those who value fun and enjoyment in life see a fulfillment of this end state through interaction with the environment, then this positive relationship is intuitive. Finally, the clearly internal value dimension, which included values such as self-respect and self-fulfillment, was negatively related to attitudes about the inconvenience of recycling. In other words, the more individuals valued respect, fulfillment, and achievement, the less they were inclined to feel that recycling was inconvenient.



The link between the respect/achievement value dimension and inconvenience is important because inconvenience was the only attitude/belief factor to show any relationship with recycling behaviors. As expected, the more one viewed recycling as inconvenient, the less one tended to recycle. Conversely, the beliefs about the importance of recycling showed no significant relationship with behavior, suggesting that the less self-involved and less concrete aspects of recycling (i.e., attitudes regarding the importance of recycling to the environment) tend not to translate into behavioral actions. Therefore, the short term concerns for the individual appear to be more influential to recycling behavior than the importance of recycling to society.

These results have important implications for strategies toward attitudinal and behavioral change. For this particular sample, two avenues are apparent. One is to address perceptions of the inconvenience of recycling, which has a direct influence on recycling behavior. If individuals can be persuaded that recycling is really not all that difficult or inconvenient, then perhaps a behavioral change can be obtained. It could very well be that these attitudes about inconvenience are merely perceptions, and not based on experience. On the other hand, it is clear that making recycling more convenient, at least for this sample, would be a useful strategy.

A second avenue towards behavioral change, and a less direct one, is to focus on the importance of recycling. As stated previously, this attitude/belief factor did not significantly influence recycling behavior. However, this is one area where values research, and understanding the underlying dimensions of attitudes, may be important. The results of this study suggest that the more one values excitement and enjoyment, the more one thinks that recycling is important. Yet, this link does not translate into recycling behavior. As stated before, this result suggests that individuals in this sample may view recycling (or more generally the environment) as a means or facilitator of fulfilling these end states of fun and excitement. If this is indeed the case, then one strategy might be to make this link more salient, and impress upon the target that individual participation in recycling may have very direct and immediate impact on fulfilling one's values or desired end states.


Although the results presented are consistent with our theoretical reasoning, they should clearly be interpreted with caution. There are some obvious limitations to this study that bear on the reliability and generalizability of the observed effects. First, the study used a convenience sample of college students. This poses two problems. One, the importance or centrality of certain values to these college students may differ markedly from the general population. Further, the particular links between values and attitudes/beliefs, and attitudes/beliefs and behavior may differ from the general population as well. The behavior of recycling may be quite different in terms of motivation, convenience or availability for college students. Consequently, with respect to generalizability, one should interpret the findings of this study only in terms of their meaning for the particular sample involved. A second limitation of the study, as previous mentioned, is the sample size. Stability of the parameter estimates would increase with sample size and, if these findings are obtained with a larger sample, we can have more confidence in the relationships between the variables.




In spite of the limitations discussed above, this study makes some tentative but important contributions to both values research and research on prosocial behavior. This study conceptually replicates the work by Homer and Kahle (1988) in that it demonstrates a link between values and attitudes/beliefs, and attitudes/beliefs and behavior. This is very important because it suggests that values may be very crucial to understanding behavior, but their importance may not be apparent in instances when critical mediating constructs are not explored. Most of the earlier work on personal values only addressed the value-behavior link or the value-attitude link, and the results tended to demonstrate consistent effects, but only weak to moderate in strength. By studying values in the context of beliefs and attitudes as well as behaviors, future values research will move toward a greater understanding of the role of values in behavior.

This study adds to our understanding of the antecedents of recycling. It is apparent that personal values may relate to beliefs and attitudes toward the behavior, but this does not always translate into action. Values showed strong relationships to beliefs about the importance of recycling, but the importance of recycling had a negligible influence on action. Clearly, further research on recycling is dictated. This study suggests that future work should continue to explore the complex relationships among antecedents of recycling.


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John A. McCarty, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
L. J. Shrum, Rutgers University - New Brunswick


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20 | 1993

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