I am teaching a class on waste management to students who are primarily environmental management masters students. For one of the sessions I plan to discuss the role of consumer/waste generator behavior in the waste management system. A colleague will present a basic introduction to some theories of behavior. I, however, would like to discuss consumer behavior from the perspective of the waste manager. For example, a municipal waste manager may be faced with a limited budget for education and public participation. Should she spend the funds on waste prevention initiatives with respect to purchasing, with respect to reuse and repair, or on efforts to increase recycling participation?

While there are many interesting questions environmental education, policy engagement and the like raised by these choices, in this instance I am interested in the efficacy of efforts to influence waste-related choices and behaviors and the associated quantitative impact on the waste stream. In simpler terms, how much impact does, for example, a good campaign to increase recycling participation have on actual recycling levels? How long do the effects persist?

So, I am looking for literature that grapples (preferably in quantitative terms )with behavior and waste from this perspective. While studies of individual interventions/initiatives are helpful, what would be of most interest would be research that compares the efficacy of varied approaches or which reviews multiple studies.

Does anyone have any suggestions?


Food waste case study: Globally, food waste is a huge problem, with around 30-40% of food wasted, this figure is relatively constant across the globe, with losses in 'developing' countries generally due to lack of infrastructure, but losses in 'developed' countries generally due to poor food management in retail and homes:

sources of food waste

South Korea has particularly high rates of consumer food waste due to the practice of having many side dishes, known as banchan, which often go uneaten. Alongside this, food recycling rates were low, with about 2% of food waste being recycled in 1994. More recently, this has been increased to over 90%. This has been done through a ban on sending food waste to landfill, implemented in 2005 and a large-scale food recycling scheme, paid for by charging residents by the weight of food they dispose of, achieved through 'smart' bins using RFID. Processed food waste is used as compost on communal gardens and pig food, potentially amongst other uses.

I recognise this is just one case study, but it's impressive that well-enacted legislation has managed to produce such a large change in behaviour.

More general behavioural effects on recycling: fairly old study (1995) by Porter et al. found that:

  • prompts by group leaders reliably increased recycling, with verbal prompts more effective than written
  • setting a goal for the amount of recycling the group wanted to do increased recycling, this was more effective than being giving feedback on recycling behaviour
  • written commitments to recycling were as effective at increasing rates as rewards for recycling, verbal commitments were less effective
  • rewards for recycling were effective, especially when a lottery for a large reward as opposed to small immediate rewards
  • a real economic loss for not recycling increased recycling rates
  • increasing the number of recycling bins available increased recycling rates
  • BUT none of these interventions showed maintenance of improved recycling behaviour after the intervention was stopped -another interesting point they reference is that parents of children who had a curriculum emphasising active participation in environmental activities showed more environmentally conscious behaviour, implying that the education doesn't just affect the child

Other papers I haven't had a chance to read (not sure whether you'll be able to access these as I have institutional access with my degree):

  • Hello and welcome! Thanks for the thoughtful answer. I've taken the liberty of editing to add links to the additional papers you cited.
    – LShaver
    May 13 '19 at 17:53
  • Thank you, really useful! May 13 '19 at 18:10

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