Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A Three-Way Tie!!

Wow, I'm surprised by this three-way tie! Maybe you'll also be surprised when I tell you the results. To quickly recap, Experimentaholic conducted a four-week observation to examine the usefulness of these container lids:

He counted the number of bottles and cans discarded into 30 bins, twice each week, for four weeks. As you can see, there were three types of bins: trash, aluminum/glass/plastic, and paper. He discreetly removed the lids off 15 containers, so that half of the bins had lids on them and half of the bins did not have lids on them. That way, he could find out if these lids affected the recycling rate.

Some* of you indicated that using these lids do NOT affect the recycling rate. In terms of this three-way tie, however, there's a stalemate among these possibilities:

1. Using container lids REDUCE the recycling rate (i.e., people are more likely to discard their bottles and cans into the trashcan)

2. Using container lids INCREASE the recycling rate (i.e., people are more likely to properly dispose their bottles and cans into the correct bin)

3. I have no idea!

Well, now the mystery is about to be solved. See for yourself and be amazed by Experimentaholic's discovery! Here's the result in the lids-absent condition and here's the result in the lids-present condition. So what do you think? Are you surprised by these findings? I'm curious to hear your reactions! :0)


*Meghan, it's so great to hear from you - I've missed you!!


SBCatMan said...

Well, I guess I wold have to say that I am not surprised because that is the way I voted. I expected the lids to make a difference, and if I am reading the results correctly, the lids seem to have made a substantial difference, even if I am not versed enough to interpret the exact statistical significance of the results.

On the other hand, two things are at least a bit surprising. One would be that even without the lids the bins ended up with a substantial number of cans. And, I suppose the cynic in me might be surprised at just how well the lids worked. That is, it is not so much surprising THAT the lids worked as it is just HOW WELL they worked.

Meghan said...

I missed you too! I was on sabbatical for awhile - life got sort of crazy. But even though life is just as crazy (I've added grad school into the mix!) I'm back. :)

1st disappointment of school - no recycling bins. Sigh. I mean, it's an *educational institution* for cryin' out loud!

Experimentaholic said...

Nice work, Verges. I truly believe that humans usually go through life on autopilot and do much of what they do at an unconscious level. Including discarding waste. When you structure the environment in such a way to improve the probability of a behavior by changing the affordances of the environments in which people act, you will find that people will change their behaviors. Many psychologists would argue is what you need to do is change people's attitudes about the environment. I don't believe that this is the root of the problem. Most people believe in recycling. Most people have a positive attitude towards recycling. But to err is human, and often, when we are discarding waste, we are doing so in conditions in which we are doing other things - like talking to a friend. In such conditions, we simply are not paying attention to the act of recycling, so our threshold of discriminating recycling from trash containers is low. We're paying attention to the girl we're hitting on, not the act of making sure our bottle goes in the right bin. But by increasing the salience of the bin, and the discriminablity of the trash from recycling receptacle, you find that people really will recycle.

Why does this matter? So what?

This study was motivated by the fact that many institutions argue that they don't recycle because people are not compliant with recycling. That there is as much recyclable materials in the trash can as in the recycling bin. This study is direct evidence that this is false....that people DO recycle, but ONLY when you set up the environment in such a way that constrains their behavior. A simple six inch hole in the lids of recycling bins costs zero dollars - all you need is a knife or drill to drastically increase recycling compliance. And an experimental attitude to test its efficacy.