Nudging waste diversion at Western State Colorado University: application of behavioral insights
International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education
Article publication date: 9 January 2018
Issue publication date: 23 February 2018
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.
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.
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.
Other colleges and universities can apply these methods to improve existing recycling programs and realize cost savings.
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.
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
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