Monday, November 13, 2023
10:30 AM - 12:00 PM
Which Bin? Using Behavioral Design to Improve Waste Sorting Behavior in a UN Agency
Session ID
A1 - Lightning: Snapshots of Program Design and Implementation in Diverse Contexts
Behavior - based Programs
Marisa Nowicki

Recycling is a critical strategy to optimize resource efficiency, with valuable benefits for the natural environment and global climate. While technological advances have transformed our ability to reuse raw materials, individual-level behavior remains an essential (and often problematic) component. While many of us have strong intentions to optimally recycle our waste items, when faced with the conundrum of "which bin?", we often get it wrong. To close this intention-action gap and demonstrate how behavioral design could be applied to advance the UN’s “Greening the Blue” initiative, ideas42 collaborated with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to design and test a behavioral intervention at FAO headquarters in Rome to increase the amount of waste being diverted from landfills. A waste audit revealed that roughly 50% of waste items were placed in the incorrect bin, indicating significant room for improvement. The team applied a behavioral design methodology to diagnose barriers impeding correct waste sorting, redesign the waste station infrastructure and signage, and test the effectiveness of the redesigned signage. The redesigned waste station signage was assessed using a cost-effective two-week online randomized controlled trial. Results showed that the behaviorally designed signage led to a 78% increase in the number of correctly sorted waste items, as compared to the current signage (p<.01). The behaviorally designed signage made waste sorting easier for individuals (p<.01) and was effective across an international audience. This collaboration demonstrates both how behavioral science can be applied to advance recycling outcomes, as well as how light-touch, low-cost testing methods can be rapidly deployed to refine interventions before investing in a costly roll-out. This presentation will highlight the results from the pilot test, as well as lessons learned from deploying a behavioral design methodology to enhance the sustainability of a large organization’s operations.

Supporting Document 1