Researchers at The University of British Columbia (UBC) released a new study showing that placing bins 1.5 metres away from suite doors drastically boosts recycling and composting rates by 141 per cent. The findings, published this month in the Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, highlights how small changes in convenience can have a big impact on performance.
“We know people care about the environment but having the desire to recycle and compost doesn’t always translate into behaviour changes,” Alessandra DiGiacomo, the study’s lead author and a PhD student in the UBC department of psychology, said in a recent release. “Perhaps unsurprisingly, we found that people composted and recycled much more when we made it more convenient.”
To test their theory, they 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 at three multi-family apartment buildings in Vancouver’s west side neighbourhood and in two student residence buildings at UBC.
For 10 weeks, the researchers examined and weighed the waste. They found that 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. 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, diverting 27 kilograms of compost from the landfill per unit per year.
“The findings show a minor change in the environment can have a huge impact on behaviour,” said study co-author Jiaying Zhao, professor in the UBC department of psychology and the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability. “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.”
Study co-authors include David Wu, Peter Lenkic and Alan Kingstone in the UBC department of psychology, and Bud Fraser of UBC Campus and Community Planning.