You're sitting at your desk, furiously scribbling on a piece of paper, when suddenly you want to start over. You crumple up the paper, but then where do you toss it? Probably not in the recycling bin, a new study suggests.

"When a product is sufficiently distorted or changed in size or form, consumers perceive it as less useful," Remi Trudel, marketing professor at Boston University and experiment designer, told NPR. And when something is perceived as less useful, people are less likely to put it in the recycling bin to be created into something new — even with commonly recycled materials like paper and aluminum.

Trudel and another researcher, Jennifer Argo, asked participants to cut pieces of paper and compared how they disposed of the trash compared to with other participants who threw away whole sheets of paper. They found that paper that had been extensively manipulated, in this case by being cut into separate pieces, was more likely to end up in the trash with the non-recyclables. They repeated the experiment with aluminum cans and found that the same phenomenon occurred: participants threw crushed cans in the trash more often than the recycling bin.

"Identifying consumer behavior driving recycling behaviors is paramount for the continuation of a healthy planet," the researchers wrote.

The study is the first step in understanding how people think about recycling and how to change behaviors in a positive way. And maybe simply raising awareness of the recycling bias can help to reduce it. (So next time you try to impress your friends with a forehead can-crushing stunt, think twice about where it ends up.)

For more information about what's recyclable and how to recycle, check out these MNN articles: