A strategy for recycling: Change the recycling-bin-to-garbage-bin ratio

The photo above comes to us from Austin, Texas. Notice anything odd? Here’s a hint: The blue bin is for recycling; the green bin is for garbage.

The blue bin is a lot bigger.

The recycling-bin-to-garbage-bin ratio in Austin stands in stark contrast to ratios in most American cities. For example, Alexandria, Virginia, provides residents with a garbage bin (shown below) that is nearly three times the size of the recycling bin.

Austin’s Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT) garbage program is a great example of implementing physical choice architecture and providing incentives for residents to recycle. It’s similar to the program in Fort Collins, Colorado, that a Nudge blog reader told us about last year. The program allows residents to choose the size of garbage bin that best fits their needs. The smaller the bin, the less the resident pays. Residents are encouraged to recycle more through the city’s single-stream recycling program (blue bin) and pay for the smallest garbage bin that will accommodate their weekly waste. A 90-gallon bin cost about twice the price of the smallest 30-gallon bin. Austin will roll out an even smaller garbage bin (21-gallon) soon.

The bigger bin, smaller bin approach isn’t unique to cities. The The Texas Facilities Commission (TFC) is in the process of implementing miniMAX, a centralized trash/recycling program, in all TFC-managed facilities. The program will affect over 20,000 state employees, providing them recycling bins with attachable mini-bins for garbage. TFC explains the program:

To increase recycling rates in an office environment, where the vast majority of refuse is recyclable, the small size of the mini-bin acts as a visual yield sign for employees when they discard something.

Hat tips: Nelda, Stacy Guidry, Levi Lainhart

Tags: , ,

  • http://profiles.google.com/kbeekman Kevin Beekman

    I couldn’t agree more with your post. However, the bin in the picture clearly says “Fairfax County”. In the City of Alexandria, new roll out bins were delivered last year to all residences with City trash collection. The size of the bins vary, and the largest bins (the same size of the green trash bins) were delivered to all single family homes. While smaller bins were given to townhouses and condos, these too are allowed the full size bin.

    • http://www.nudges.org/ Nudge blog

      Thanks for the clarification, Kevin. You are correct. The photo was taken at a residence in Alexandria, but it is under the jurisdiction of Fairfax County and not the city of Alexandria. We never realized how complicated Alexandria is!

  • Romey

    I grew up in Australia and they have been doing this for over 20 years…it works-it’s great…more than a small nudge though it forces people to recycle. The trash bin is about 1/4 the size of the recycle bin.

    • Romey

      I’m a Jervis Bay girl from NSW, Australia…

  • Anonymous

    In Brisbane Australia we have equal sized bins… But the recycling bin is only collected every two weeks.

    A quick bit of research shows me that the Austin recycling bin seems to be only picked up every two weeks whilst solid waste is collected every week.

    A good reminder to examine the whole system.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001650516942 Sean O’Donnell

    I like the fact that the green bin could ultimately just be done away with by throwing it into the blue bin.

  • Pete Gale

    Surely the best nudge is to change from having an unlabelled bin and a ‘recycling’ bin, to having a recycling bin and a labelled ‘landfill’ bin. Putting waste into landfill needs to be an active choice

  • http://www.blueskyrecycle.com Louisville

    The ratio of the recycling bin garbage must have been changed. Good idea men because garbage is a lot so trash can should be bigger and better.

  • http://www.houstonshredding.com/ shredding Houston

    Encouraging people to recycle waste material is very beneficial. They can be able to help save our environment.

  • Maarten Gubbens

    This post is great source of information which is useful for all…



  • Stephan Richardson

    Recycling is a good thing if we can’t lessen our consumption.

  • Jim

    In my town, they gave me a 96 gal cart for garbage and a 96 gal cart for recycling. Big improvement, I thought. Except they then told me theyonly pick up recycling every TWO weeks, while they pick up garbage weekly.
    The recycling bin fills up VERY FAST while the garbage has almost nothing in it. why do they do this?

  • Arina Lova

    But is effective for us? cause i think some people had an lazy habbit, In my town is not effctiv for us. Maybe if you want go to italy by train you can visit travel tips for italy by train practice/