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Recycling Sign Experiment

Psychology and Recycling

What causes someone to recycle? What can we do to increase recycling rates?

Education is critical to recycling. In order to be successful and complete the zero-net-waste pledge as part of the campus's Triple Net Zero by 2020 committment, we need everyone to be educated and aware of UC Merced's recycling practices. 

Anyone can look up information about recycling or sit through a presentation, but what actually makes a difference in the moment? We conducted an experiment to see what might cause someone to recycle. Our experiment was featured in Waste & Recycling News!

The Experiment

Every month, UC Merced had an early-morning group of staff members who gathered for First Fridays Coffee Hour. The same people generally attended the event every month, so the people participating in the experiment were fairly consistent. The food provided at First Fridays was the typical breakfast buffet: coffee and pastries. That left  a variety of recyclables, compostables and landfill items. 

After each week, we performed a waste audit to determine our diversion rate in recycable, compostable and landfill items

We did four experiments: No signs at all, signs that have pictures, signs with pictures and a sign letting individuals know they were on camera, as well as signs with pictures and an instructor watching.

Watch the video to see what happens!


The Results

The largest improvement we saw was the jump between having no sign posted and a sign with photos posted. Both recycling and landfill materials almost doubled in correct placement! 

We found that putting a sign up saying they were on camera actually reduced the diversion rate in all categories. Even with an instructor standing behind the bins explaining where to put each item, staff members still did not recycle perfectly. A few people were able to sneak things into the wrong bin under the radar.

Have any ideas for how to improve our experiment? Want to conduct one of your own? Please contact us and let us know!