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Nudging waste diversion at Western State Colorado University: application of behavioral insights

Kimberly McCoy (Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences, Western State Colorado University, Gunnison, Colorado, USA)
Justin J. Oliver (Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences, Western State Colorado University, Gunnison, Colorado, USA)
D. Scott Borden (Western State Colorado University, Gunnison, Colorado, USA)
Scott I. Cohn (Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences, Western State Colorado University, Gunnison, Colorado, USA)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 9 January 2018

Issue publication date: 23 February 2018

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Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to test a nudge, or intervention, designed through behavioral insights at a university campus to discover cost-effective means for increasing recycling participation and methods for estimating waste removal cost savings.

Design/methodology/approach

A series of studies were conducted demonstrating the effectiveness of behaviorally based recycling interventions. Study locations included an academic building, a performing arts/studio arts building, a sports complex and a campus library. All locations already had robust and visible recycling programs in operation. Following an observation period, modifications were made to the locations of waste and recycling containers. Waste auditing procedures were used to quantify existing waste diversion rates, and changes to those rates following changes in choice architecture.

Findings

Waste diversion rates improved and significant reductions in the proportion of recyclable materials in the trash were observed at all four study locations. Results indicate that the nudge of changing choice architecture can enhance recycling programs that are already recognized as successful. This paper also explains methods for estimating waste removal, which are important as it enables calculations of cost savings from such interventions. Finally, targeting plastic bottles to increase return on investment is recommended.

Practical implications

Other colleges and universities can apply these methods to improve existing recycling programs and realize cost savings.

Originality value

This is the first study to investigate the use of a nudge on waste management issues on a university campus. An easy-to-replicate method, which allows measuring realized cost savings, is explained.

Keywords

Citation

McCoy, K., Oliver, J.J., Borden, D.S. and Cohn, S.I. (2018), "Nudging waste diversion at Western State Colorado University: application of behavioral insights", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 19 No. 3, pp. 608-621. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-05-2017-0063

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited