Can you encourage people to recycle? Our attempt to switch behavior

April 27, 2011, 11:53 am

This is a follow-up to my post Assessing Your Greenness: a serendipitous stroll toward sustainability.

Our campus recently conducted a waste stream audit in the library. Download UCSB_Library_Waste_Audit What it boils down to is that our patrons generate a lot of garbage.This gives you a sense of coffee cups alone:


It will be interesting to see what happens when we temporarily close our coffee operations during a long renovation. Obviously students will still bring coffee into the building, but I suspect they’ll consume less when the impulse to purchase is no longer right down the hall.



The biggest takeaway from this experience is that students are not recycling– at least not as much as we expected. UCSB prides itself on sustainability and being eco-minded so I was anticipating higher numbers. What it boils down to is that 66% of our waste is recyclable, yet only 23% of it actually ends up in a recycling bin.

We’re going to see if we can change that. Taking a page from the Heath brothers and SWITCH, we’re going to see if we can modify behavior by making it easier for people to do the right thing.

A big barrier to recycling was the limitation of bins. I’m guilty of this myself. The closest recycling bin to my office is way down the hall. I can’t blame a student for dumping his garbage in the first can he comes across. Hey—at least they are throwing things away right?

Our Solution

We believe that if presented with a choice, most people would choose to recycle… so we got more bins. This is actually easier said than done. It involved facilities, custodial services, campus planning, and several others. But at the end we deployed nearly 100 new bins. Photo 2-2

Our strategy is to place a recycling bin beside every trashcan. In the photo above you can see all three options. Office Pack bins are only located near copiers and printers, but everywhere else we have landfill and recycling together. The signs also provide some guidance on what can and can’t be recycled. Signs are posted above every bin for now.

Prior to this we had very few recycling bins in our building and they were administered by library employees (passionate about recycling) not by our campus custodial service. This report has persuaded campus planners to step up and start handling recycling in the library– another small victory.

All this happened last week— on Earth Day. Hopefully be able to conduct another audit later this year to see if there has been any improvement.

Thanks to the UCSB Library’s S.A.N.E. group for their passion and commitment to saving the earth. None of this would have happened without them

This entry was posted in Assessment&Evaluation, Spaces&Places and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.