Recycling rates go up when bins are easy to access

New research from the University of British Columbia shows that recycling and composting rates can jump by up to 141 per cent if bins are placed 1.5 metres away from doors.

Convenience is a major incentive in changing human behaviour. Make healthier food options easily available and people will choose them over their less healthy counterparts.

The same holds true for recycling and composting. By placing bins just 1.5 metres away from doors, recycling and compost rates can jump by a drastic 141 per cent, as researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) found.

“We know people care about the environment but having the desire to recycle and compost doesn’t always translate into behaviour changes,” said Alessandra DiGiacomo, the study’s lead author.

“Perhaps unsurprisingly, we found that people composted and recycled much more when we made it more convenient.”

To test their theory, the researchers placed bins in three different locations: a garbage disposal area (the least convenient option), at the base of an elevator in a building (a more convenient option), and by elevator doors on each floor (the most convenient option).

The experiments were carried out over the course of 10 weeks at three multi-family apartment buildings and two student residence buildings in Vancouver.

The researchers found that when compost bins were placed on each floor in the apartment buildings, instead of on the ground floor, composting rates increased by 70 per cent.

When recycling stations were placed just 1.5 meters from suites in student residences, instead of in the basement, recycling and composting increased by an average of 141 per cent, diverting an average of nearly 20 kilograms of waste from the landfill per person per year.

“The findings show a minor change in the environment can have a huge impact on behaviour,” said study co-author Jiaying Zhao.

“Traditional views are that we have to educate people about the importance of recycling and composting, but we believe that’s the wrong model because people already know. Simple factors, such as convenience, can be key to helping us become more environmentally friendly.”


Image credit: Dave Goodman, flickr/Creative Commons

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