What unsustainable behavior needs to change:
One of the biggest problems in recycling is the contamination of recyclables. To encourage more recycling, a common solution is to increase the numberof recycling bins. Unfortunately, this inadvertently means that people would discard non-recyclables into these conveniently placed bins, resulting in the contamination of recyclables.
People often develop routines and habits when it comes to waste disposal, and these habits may not align with proper recycling practices. For example, if someone is accustomed to throwing all their waste into a single bin at home without considering recyclability, they may continue doing so even when recycling bins are available in another setting.
Breaking ingrained habits and establishing new ones that prioritise proper recycling behaviours can be a key factor in reducing contamination and promoting effective recycling practices.
The Green Nudge:
Tommy Cheong, a Singaporean industrial designer who graduated from the National University of Singapore (NUS), came up with an idea to improve the design of recycling bins by “adding friction.”
His design has three key features that tap into the principles of behavioural science.
- A display of contaminants: Catering to people who don’t know what cannot be recycled, the bins include a real-life display of some common contaminants; thus making it easier for users to identify what they shouldn’t put into the bins.
- A defensive lid: If shaping the opening of the bins to accept only very specific items wasn’t enough, the bins also have a defensive lid to prevent people from “conveniently” discarding non-recyclables into them. This disrupts people’s “System 1” automatic habit of throwing anything and everything into the bins, and activates “System 2” by forcing them to consider what exactly they should be putting into these bins. This functions like a baby’s toy where you can only fit the correct shape into the puzzle!
- A transparent bin housing: Just in case people still don’t know what should be placed into these bins, the bin housing is designed to be transparent, so that users can see what others are putting in the bins; therein harnessing the power of social norms!
The result: The trial of this bin design at shopping malls yielded a remarkable outcome, with contamination rates for plastic bottles reducing from 79% to an impressive 29%.
As you can see, green nudges can sometimes make use of more ‘friction’, especially if we are trying to discourage incorrect behaviour. And when it comes to recycling, having fewer but cleaner recyclables may actually be better than having lots of contaminated items.
Are you aware of any other nudges that help to keep recycling streams clean? Feel free to get in touch: email@example.com