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At the moment of disposal: how messaging techniques at university public outdoor waste receptacles can improve the solid waste stream

Amanda Brinton (School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA)
Laura A. Warner (Department of Agricultural Education and Communication, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA)
Timothy G. Townsend (Department of Environmental Engineering Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 5 December 2022

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Abstract

Purpose

This study aims to test how waste disposal behaviors can be changed such as higher recycling diversion and lower contamination rates using signage and messaging techniques at public outdoor waste receptacles on a university campus.

Design/methodology/approach

The experiment took place at five public outdoor receptacle stations, each with a landfill and recycling receptacle, which were located in highly trafficked areas on the University of Florida campus. The study consisted of three phases, each lasting for three weeks. During phase one, no signage and messaging were introduced; during phase two, negative and concrete messaging was placed on signs that stood above the two receptacles; and during phase three, positive and abstract messaging was placed above the receptacles. Waste audits were conducted by separating and weighing the waste.

Findings

With signage and messaging implementation, the recycling diversion rates increased and contamination in the recycling receptacles decreased. However, there was not a consistent decrease in contamination in the landfill receptacles. The study also showed that the negative and concrete messaging was more effective at both increasing diversion rates and decreasing contamination rates at the recycling receptacles.

Practical implications

Waste managers on university campuses need to address the purpose and type of messaging being used at waste receptacles to maximize behavior and/or education outcomes.

Originality/value

To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this study represents the first time waste disposal behaviors have been analyzed and experimented on at public outdoor receptacles on a university campus.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The supplies for this experiment were funded by Dr Tim Townsend from the University of Florida. The authors thank Katie Karwan from the University of Florida Facilities Services, who coordinated with them on experimental procedures while working within the solid waste department on campus. The authors also thank Steven Butler, also from the University of Florida Facilities Services, who delivered all of the samples for the experiment multiple times a week. Finally, the primary researcher thanks her two research assistants, Sharez Sohail and Edgar Molina, for their tireless work in assisting her with the many hours of sorting through waste and the physical sign construction, and also Marco Pazmino, Nicole Robey and Chad Spreadbury for their general guidance and support.

The data set for this study is available in the University of Florida Repository using the link below.

https://original-ufdc.uflib.ufl.edu/l/IR00011735/00001

Citation

Brinton, A., Warner, L.A. and Townsend, T.G. (2022), "At the moment of disposal: how messaging techniques at university public outdoor waste receptacles can improve the solid waste stream", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-03-2022-0069

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2022, Emerald Publishing Limited

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