The National University of Singapore nudges

Marcus Tay Guan Hock, Sustainability Executive at the National University of Singapore, writes in to say that Nudge “gives me hope as an environmentalist,” and explains how the school used principles of choice architecture to redesign its recycling program.

Here at the National University of Singapore (NUS), we designed our recycling bins to tackle the issue of contamination, applying what you called “Expect Error” from users.

When users throw the wrong things in the recycling bins, it wastes the efforts of those who recycled properly. For example, paper bins are often contaminated with food waste, rendering all of the paper unrecyclable.

This situation is rather serious in Singapore. A Straits Times Article on June 15, “What rubbish,” indicates non-recyclable waste found in all 80 recycling bins surveyed.

At NUS, we did the following two things. They have worked wonders.

  • At the point of disposal, we help people decide if the item can be recycled using proper and clear labels. These labels are designed so that before users can throw trash into the bin, they will see the labels which instruct them what can and cannot be thrown.
  • trash bins 2 NUS

  • We give people an option not to throw garbage into the recycling bin if the garbage cannot be recycled by pairing every set of recycling bins with a trash bin as well. Because some people are not yet environmentally conscious, they just want to get rid of the rubbish in their hands, whether it can be recycled or not. trash bins NUS
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    3 Responses to “The National University of Singapore nudges”

    1. holmegm Says:

      Because some people are not yet environmentally conscious, they just want to get rid of the rubbish in their hands, whether it can be recycled or not.

      Er … people don’t just “want to”, they need to. The costs of not doing so are real costs, that it’s foolish to just expect people to bear.

      I’m glad this is finally being addressed here, but it’s kind of funny to hear the grousing about it :) You have to make recycling work for people, and not cost them too much (in any sense of the word), if you expect them to do it.

    2. Marcus Tay Guan Hock Says:

      As environmentalists, we all recognize people need to recycle. But that’s the whole point about NUDGE, facilitating people to act in a way that is good for the planet even though they themselves may not be bothered.

      You can preach till the cows come home about the importance of doing the right thing and still not achieve it.

    3. Wen Says:

      Can Drink Carton/Milk Carton (terra-pak) be recycled in SG?

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