From toilet to table: Value-tailored messages influence emotional responses to wastewater products

Madeline Judge*, Olivia de Hoog, Goda Perlaviciute, Nadja Contzen, Linda Steg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
77 Downloads (Pure)


BACKGROUND: Products made from recycled organic materials are an important part of a circular economy, but the question is whether they will be adopted by the public. Such products can elicit strong emotional responses and public resistance. As a case in point, we studied products made from sewage waste, such as recycled toilet paper, which can serve as material alternative to wood and plastic when making household items (e.g., tables). In an experimental study, we investigated the role of values in emotional responses to such wastewater products, and whether emotional responses were influenced by value-tailored messages. We expected that people would experience positive emotions towards products that supported their values, especially when the messages emphasised the benefits of these products for their values (e.g., when the products were presented as good for the environment). We presented participants with one of two messages describing wastewater products as having positive implications for either biospheric values (i.e. positive consequences for the environment) or hedonic values (i.e. positive consequences for personal enjoyment). We predicted that the relationship between values and positive emotions would be stronger when the messages emphasised the positive implications of wastewater products for one's core values. Additionally, we predicted that emotions would be associated with acceptability and intentions to purchase the products.

RESULTS: The more strongly people endorsed biospheric values, the more positive emotions they reported towards wastewater products. As expected, this relationship was stronger when the environmental benefits of products were emphasised. Hedonic values were significantly but weakly associated with more negative and more positive emotions, and this did not depend on the message framing. However, we found that emphasising pleasurable benefits of wastewater products reduced positive emotions in people with weaker hedonic values. Positive and negative emotions were significantly associated with higher and lower acceptability of the products and intentions to purchase the products, respectively.

CONCLUSIONS: Our findings have implications for the effective marketing of wastewater products. For people with strong biospheric values, emphasising the positive environmental consequences may promote wastewater products. Such biospheric messages do not seem to make the products less (or more) appealing for people with strong hedonic values, who do not generally have strong emotional responses to these products. We discuss the theoretical implications of our findings and avenues for future research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number79
Number of pages12
JournalBiotechnology for Biofuels
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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