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Marcus Tay Guan Hock, Sustainability Executive at the National University of Singapore, writes in to say that Nudge “gives me hope as an environmentalist,” and explains how the school used principles of choice architecture to redesign its recycling program.

Here at the National University of Singapore (NUS), we designed our recycling bins to tackle the issue of contamination, applying what you called “Expect Error” from users.

When users throw the wrong things in the recycling bins, it wastes the efforts of those who recycled properly. For example, paper bins are often contaminated with food waste, rendering all of the paper unrecyclable.

This situation is rather serious in Singapore. A Straits Times Article on June 15, “What rubbish,” indicates non-recyclable waste found in all 80 recycling bins surveyed.

At NUS, we did the following two things. They have worked wonders.

  • At the point of disposal, we help people decide if the item can be recycled using proper and clear labels. These labels are designed so that before users can throw trash into the bin, they will see the labels which instruct them what can and cannot be thrown.
  • trash bins 2 NUS

  • We give people an option not to throw garbage into the recycling bin if the garbage cannot be recycled by pairing every set of recycling bins with a trash bin as well. Because some people are not yet environmentally conscious, they just want to get rid of the rubbish in their hands, whether it can be recycled or not. trash bins NUS
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    34 percent better says Rutgers psychology professor Sean Duffy. Why?

    We have several speculations. First, people generally discard waste while in the process of doing something else, like talking on the phone. Perhaps the little hole increases the salience of the bin, the visual equivalent of screaming, “Yo! I’m a recycling bin.” Or maybe there’s something fun and childlike about dropping an object through a tiny hole. Why it works is unclear, but the important thing is that it works; and if you are designing or purchasing new recycling bins, I suggest that if you don’t like picking through trash, buy the one with the little hole.

    Hat tip: Monica Hamburg.

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    * Oscar Wilde quote

    Cass Sunstein digs up a nice paper that draws on the social norms literature to explain common empirical results that people contribute more to public goods like charity or public radio when they see others contributing. Economists Kjell Arne Brekke, Gorm Kipperberg, and Karine Nyborg invoke the specific norm of responsibility – not a staple of standard economic theory – which they say is activated when someone recognizes that her individual actions have an impact on the public good and accept their role in contributing to it.

    A duty-oriented individual prefers to keep a self-image as a decent or responsible kind of person, someone who can be trusted to do what “a person such as I do in a situation such as this.” Further, if he does not live up to his perceived responsibilities, this will impair his self-image.

    Continue reading the post here.

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