recycling

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Hat tip: Matthew Buechler

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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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Another everyday bystander effect is here.

Hat tip: JetStream Vid.

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Reader Elaine Wang sends along this report, originally posted, she says, on a friend’s Facebook page. It’s a version of the grocery cart choice architecture idea applied to recycling.

In my former city (Fort Collins, CO), they decided to switch things around so that recycling went in the big 90 gallon container, and everyone got a small 35 gallon container for trash. Everyone who was previously filling up just a small bin of recycling suddenly started filling up the 90 gallon and NOT having as much trash, so the 35 gallon for trash was just fine. Turns out, people only recycle as much as you give them space to recycle. If you make their trash capacity smaller and give them unlimited room to recycle, they will remember to recycle SO much more. It was awesome. I was even shocked at my own recycling efforts!

We’d love to know more about this initiative from our readers in Colorado – and elsewhere!

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Food manufacturer Kashi participates in a rewards program that gives points to consumers who recycle their cereal box. Of course, giving rewards after the box has been recycled would be unwieldy – Just imagine trying to verify which Kashi boxes got recycled and which didn’t. So Kashi directs people to enter a code on the inside of the cardboard box and then recycle it, a strategy straight out of behavioral research on voting that finds asking people to pledge to vote (or tell someone when and where they plan to vote) increases their odds of voting. So even if you could just enter the cereal box code and throw the box away, Kashi thinks you won’t, especially after you’ve already committed to recycling it.

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Assorted links

1) Choice architecture advice for businesses. Hat tip: Zach Perry.

2) Psychologists are studying ambivalence as factor in decision making more closely.

3) Likely ineffective recycling nudge in Sweden (in Swedish). Ad says “Let us recycle your cans” with a shelf below the message. Hat tip: Niklas Laninge.

4) Likely ineffective anti-gambling nudge in Australia. Pop-up screen showing current amount won and lost on video poker machine.

5) Lessons from psychology applied to the climate change debate. Hat tip: Five Minute Economist

6) Can you build social capital through a nudge? Hat tip: Social Capital Blog.

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Alan Schwartz reports on the labeling of waste and recycling bins at a local hospital. One is for “mixed paper”; another is for “Glass – plastic – aluminum. The third, a trash bin, is not labeled “trash” or “waste,” however. Rather, it’s a nice reminder to make sure you’re not throwing out mixed paper, glass, plastic or aluminum.

Addendum: This photo is a nice example of what we’d like to post more of on our Twitter page.

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Reader Jason Bade writes in with a comment about the power of labels on decision making about recycling.

Oftentimes, we are given two options when it comes to disposing of our refuse: “Recycle” and “Trash.” When one approaches a recycling receptacle, one is confronted by a set of rules that are rather easy to break, even if by accident (for example, I can recycle a plastic milk bottle, but not a plastic soap bottle). Because we, as humans, are lazy, we tend toward the option that carries with it no burden of rules–no risk of being wrong. There are no rules to throwing stuff in the trash, so it is the naturally appealing option. How, then, can we change this choice architecture to eliminate (or at least equalize) the risk of each option?

The reason this situation exists in the first place is that these choices are not mutually exclusive. In theory, aluminum can could be put in either receptacle without breaking any “rules.” Although I am unsure of this empirically, I would venture that a change in garbage can lingo could increase recycling rates, if it were more specific and put the choice in absolute terms. Take the label “trash,” or “garbage,” which implies “everything we don’t want.” If we relabeled garbage cans as “Non-Recyclables” (or the trash cans next to compost bins as “Non-Compostables”), it might make people think a lot harder about what to put in which bins. Recycling bins could still be labeled “Recyclables” but trash bins might also be labeled “Non-Recyclables.” This not only would give every single discardable item only one legitimate destination, but it would also put the decision to recycle on par with throwing it away.

Addendum: Jason is an undergraduate at Stanford who is starting a group called BEAST–-Behavioral Economists at Stanford. BEAST’s purpose, he writes, is “to investigate behavioral problems, implement controlled `nudge’ experiments around campus and in the greater community to remedy them, and then publish the results online and in the greater community for implementation elsewhere.” The group isn’t up and running yet, but if you’re at Stanford and interested in nudging, try and check it out.

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1) The New Yorker interview with Richard Thaler.

2) London’s mayor wants to start a recycling bank program that gives people shopping vouchers for their recyclables.

3) Another plug this past weekend for the automatic tax return. California says it costs $2.59 to process a paper return, but only 34 cents to process its version of the automatic tax return, ReadyReturn. The makers of Turbo Tax have been trying to end the program, most recently this fall.

4) Calorie postings at Starbucks led to lower calorie consumption by six percent–except around the holidays. Hat tip: Farnam Street.

5) Will Obama mention the automatic IRA in his State of the Union speech Wednesday?

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Assorted links

1) Atlanta is testing out an incentivized recycling program where residents can earn and exchange points for “rewards, gift cards, groceries, and products” with participating retailers. (Hat tip: Mike Erskine)

2a) Rewarding first-graders for eating fruits and vegetables with small prizes.

2b) “‘If you want to know if an urban environment supports cycling, you can forget about all the detailed ‘bikeability indexes’—just measure the proportion of cyclists who are female,’ says Jan Garrard, a senior lecturer at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, and author of several studies on biking and gender differences.” From Scientific American.

(Hat tips: Christopher Daggett)

3) A scale that tells the world how much you weigh via Twitter. (Hat tip: Justin Holz)

4) Photos of calorie counting nudges at Freakonomics.

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