Posts Tagged ‘recycling’

Is “trash” keeping us from recycling?

January 26, 2010

Reader Jason Bade writes in with a comment about the power of labels on decision making about recycling.

Oftentimes, we are given two options when it comes to disposing of our refuse: “Recycle” and “Trash.” When one approaches a recycling receptacle, one is confronted by a set of rules that are rather easy to break, even if by accident (for example, I can recycle a plastic milk bottle, but not a plastic soap bottle). Because we, as humans, are lazy, we tend toward the option that carries with it no burden of rules–no risk of being wrong. There are no rules to throwing stuff in the trash, so it is the naturally appealing option. How, then, can we change this choice architecture to eliminate (or at least equalize) the risk of each option?

The reason this situation exists in the first place is that these choices are not mutually exclusive. In theory, aluminum can could be put in either receptacle without breaking any “rules.” Although I am unsure of this empirically, I would venture that a change in garbage can lingo could increase recycling rates, if it were more specific and put the choice in absolute terms. Take the label “trash,” or “garbage,” which implies “everything we don’t want.” If we relabeled garbage cans as “Non-Recyclables” (or the trash cans next to compost bins as “Non-Compostables”), it might make people think a lot harder about what to put in which bins. Recycling bins could still be labeled “Recyclables” but trash bins might also be labeled “Non-Recyclables.” This not only would give every single discardable item only one legitimate destination, but it would also put the decision to recycle on par with throwing it away.

Addendum: Jason is an undergraduate at Stanford who is starting a group called BEAST–-Behavioral Economists at Stanford. BEAST’s purpose, he writes, is “to investigate behavioral problems, implement controlled `nudge’ experiments around campus and in the greater community to remedy them, and then publish the results online and in the greater community for implementation elsewhere.” The group isn’t up and running yet, but if you’re at Stanford and interested in nudging, try and check it out.

Assorted links

January 26, 2010

1) The New Yorker interview with Richard Thaler.

2) London’s mayor wants to start a recycling bank program that gives people shopping vouchers for their recyclables.

3) Another plug this past weekend for the automatic tax return. California says it costs $2.59 to process a paper return, but only 34 cents to process its version of the automatic tax return, ReadyReturn. The makers of Turbo Tax have been trying to end the program, most recently this fall.

4) Calorie postings at Starbucks led to lower calorie consumption by six percent–except around the holidays. Hat tip: Farnam Street.

5) Will Obama mention the automatic IRA in his State of the Union speech Wednesday?

Assorted links

November 12, 2009

1) Atlanta is testing out an incentivized recycling program where residents can earn and exchange points for “rewards, gift cards, groceries, and products” with participating retailers. (Hat tip: Mike Erskine)

2a) Rewarding first-graders for eating fruits and vegetables with small prizes.

2b) “‘If you want to know if an urban environment supports cycling, you can forget about all the detailed ‘bikeability indexes’—just measure the proportion of cyclists who are female,’ says Jan Garrard, a senior lecturer at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, and author of several studies on biking and gender differences.” From Scientific American.

(Hat tips: Christopher Daggett)

3) A scale that tells the world how much you weigh via Twitter. (Hat tip: Justin Holz)

4) Photos of calorie counting nudges at Freakonomics.

The National University of Singapore nudges

September 9, 2009

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
  • Recycling bins work better when they have holes in them

    January 29, 2009

    34 percent better says Rutgers psychology professor Sean Duffy. Why?

    We have several speculations. First, people generally discard waste while in the process of doing something else, like talking on the phone. Perhaps the little hole increases the salience of the bin, the visual equivalent of screaming, “Yo! I’m a recycling bin.” Or maybe there’s something fun and childlike about dropping an object through a tiny hole. Why it works is unclear, but the important thing is that it works; and if you are designing or purchasing new recycling bins, I suggest that if you don’t like picking through trash, buy the one with the little hole.

    Hat tip: Monica Hamburg.

    Duty is what one expects from others*

    July 11, 2008

    * Oscar Wilde quote

    Cass Sunstein digs up a nice paper that draws on the social norms literature to explain common empirical results that people contribute more to public goods like charity or public radio when they see others contributing. Economists Kjell Arne Brekke, Gorm Kipperberg, and Karine Nyborg invoke the specific norm of responsibility – not a staple of standard economic theory – which they say is activated when someone recognizes that her individual actions have an impact on the public good and accept their role in contributing to it.

    A duty-oriented individual prefers to keep a self-image as a decent or responsible kind of person, someone who can be trusted to do what “a person such as I do in a situation such as this.” Further, if he does not live up to his perceived responsibilities, this will impair his self-image.

    Continue reading the post here.