Study: Closer bins equal higher participation rates in multi-unit buildings

Dive Brief:

  • A new study from researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC), published in the Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, found a clear link between convenience and recycling participation rates in multi-unit buildings.
  • The team conducted their experiment over 10 weeks at three multi-unit buildings in Vancouver and two UBC dormitories. Placing food waste collection bins on each floor of the multi-unit buildings rather than just on the ground floor led to a 70% increase in participation.
  • Placing bins 1.5 meters from student suites — rather than in the basement — led to a 147% increase in recycling for containers, 137% increase for paper and 139% increase for food waste.

Dive Insight:

The benefits of convenience may seem obvious, but having them thoroughly tested by researchers from a university's department of psychology helps to reinforce the argument. They conducted their work at the five buildings over 10 weeks and experimented with placement of bins in basements, ground floors and individual floors. According to the researchers this shows that the benefits of convenience may outweigh education when it comes to encouraging higher diversion rates. Though education may still play a role to reduce contamination, as seen with the shift toward single-stream recycling for the sake of convenience and efficiency.

As more cities look at improving recycling access and participation in multi-unit buildings, all of these factors are important to consider. The idea has been met with some resistance by building owners that say there isn't enough room to manage separate waste streams, especially on individual floors, and some cities have experimented with centrally located drop-off bins in select neighborhoods instead. 

Some of this can be addressed by building integrated collection systems into new construction projects, but that still leaves many existing buildings where space will be a challenge. Though as shown by the UBC's work, and other surveys, convenient recycling access is considered a top priority for younger generations. At a time when broader research shows recycling still isn't a "cultural norm" for a sizable portion of the population, providing better access may be a way to start changing that. 

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Filed Under: Collections & Transfer Waste Diversion
Top image credit: Flickr