Categorically speaking

Every second month seems to roll around faster than the next. No sooner have we put one issue of the TAPPSA Journal on the press, we are planning the next one. I have been in the ‘editor’s seat’ for a year and it’s been an incredible journey. It has opened my mind even more to a world of ongoing development and research into the wonder of wood fibre, its potential beyond the ubiquitous A4 copy paper or cardboard box and the improvement of cost and process efficiency of pulp and paper making.

As you will know, it is our aim through the journal to showcase such progress with you. Volume 4 of 2015 is no exception. Not only will you read the peer-reviewed paper by Berdine Coetzee on ‘recovery of lignosulphonates from spent sulphite liquors’, you will also learn more about how optical topography measurement can pick up surface variations that could lead to substandard printability. There is also a piece on how a Dutch university has used pyrolysis of paper sludge to make bio-oil and we have our usual industry, mill and supplier news. Thanks to all our contributors and advertisers!

While paper is ‘our game’, I’m thankful to have the Internet at my disposal through which I scour to find interesting ‘titbits’ and unsung innovations. I stumbled across a marvelous article written by Chris Mooney for the Washington Post that shares a study by the universities of Boston and Alberta into why people don’t recycle crumpled up paper.

The piece of research – Trash or Recycle? How Product Distortion Leads to Categorization Error During Disposal – finds that ‘we’re more likely to recycle flat, pristine paper than balled up or cut up paper. This makes no physical sense, and no environmental sense — but it does make human sense, if you understand the workings of the brain’.

The human brain is designed to automatically classify the world so that we can make sense of it – and I guess, stay alive. We are able to distinguish between friends and enemies; couches and beds, to cite the examples in the article.

The researchers – Remi Trudel, Jennifer Argo, and Matthew Meng – assert that consumers tend to ‘misperceive paper as a non-recyclable object’ if it has lost its original shape or form. Their paper describes the phenomenon as follows: “It appears as though the same product (i.e. paper) may have different categorical representations in memory depending on the degree of distortion…. Our conceptual explanation is that a piece of paper that has been cut into smaller pieces is more prototypical of garbage or trash and is automatically categorised as trash because of the alterations to its size and form.”

Various experiments confirmed that participants were more inclined to put intact sheets of paper into a recycling bin but when it came to a crumpled ball or pieces of the same substrate, these found their way to the rubbish bin.

A final study demonstrated that a recycling sign depicting a crumpled paper ball helped to remedy this category error observed in prior studies and proved to drastically increase the recycling rates of distorted paper.

Mooney’s article sums it up: “[Our] brains are probably to blame for a lot of paper winding up in landfills, rather than being recycled — and that we need a lot more signage and other forms of communication to correct and dismantle this cognitive error.

It’s something to think about when we move towards National Clean-Up and Recycle Month in September. It might be worth experimenting in your own environments too.

Another worthy campaign to support is National Book Week. This year the South African Book Development Council has launched two supporting drives, namely Buy-A-Book and Allow a Girl Child To Go Places. Both call on people and companies to purchase books for young girls who cannot afford to buy them as a means of empowering future mothers, leaders and pillars of our society. This definitely something that I am going to support, and I would love to hear from you ahead of the next issue if your company has taken a similar step!

And speaking of girl children and mothers, I would like to wish our graphic designer (and former TAPPSA editor) Jodie Watt and her husband Warren the very best for the birth of their first child and daughter in mid-August.

Happy reading – and recycling!


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