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

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