Research Projects

Effective Approaches for Persuading Travelers to Recycle and Reduce Contamination in the Waste Stream

The research would identify the best persuasive strategies, language, and media, supported by behavioral science, for successfully encouraging customers to separate waste materials at the source and reduce contamination. This would reduce the number of costly waste hauls; help rehabilitate international scrap materials markets; reduce the amount of materials being sent to landfills and incinerators; promote composting programs; and significantly reduce water and air pollution, including C02 emissions.

Background (Describe the current situation or problem in the industry, and how your idea would address it.)

In 2018, China, formerly the world's biggest importer of scrap and other recyclable materials, enacted their "National Sword" policy, which set an extremely strict 5% threshold for contamination. As a result, airports and municipalities throughout the United States have been struggling to find new markets and significantly reduce contamination in their recyclables.

Sorting and diverting waste effectively and without contamination at the source is essential for reaching our zero waste goals. Appropriately, we place a special emphasis on educating airport users on the value and methods of properly sorting their waste. We do not, however, know the most persuasive language and approaches for maximizing customer participation in our recycling programs.

Objective (What is the desired product or result that will help the airport industry?)

The research would identify the best persuasive strategies, language, and media, supported by behavioral science, for successfully encouraging customers to separate waste materials at the source and reduce contamination. This would reduce the number of costly waste hauls; help rehabilitate international scrap materials markets; reduce the amount of materials being sent to landfills and incinerators; promote composting programs; and significantly reduce water and air pollution, including C02 emissions.

Approach (Describe in general terms the steps you think are needed to achieve the objective.)
  1. Conduct a comprehensive review of existing literature in behavioral science
  2. Establish a baseline for diversion in multiple test sites (either multiple airports or several terminals within one airport) through a waste audit.
  3. Provide a control and up to four educational/awareness approaches to changing behavior, based on behavioral theory.
  4. Test the strategies against each other and the control, measuring the difference in contamination from the baseline to a second waste audit in each test area.
  5. Analyze which approaches are most effective in an airport setting. The study would include a diverse selection of airports by geography and size.
Cost Estimate and Backup (Provide a cost estimate and support for how you arrived at the estimate.)

Staff Estimate: $400,000

Related Research - List related ACRP and other industry research; describe gaps (see link to Research Roadmaps above), and describe how your idea would address these gaps. This is a critical element of a synthesis topic submission.
  1. Cialdini, R. B. (2001). Influence: Science and practice (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
  2. Cialdini, Robert B. (1990). "A Focus Theory of Normative Conduct: Recycling the Concept of Norms to Reduce Littering in Public Places". Journal of Personality and Social Psyvhology. Vol. 58, No. 6, 1015-1026.
  3. University of British Columbia. "Making Bins More Convenient Boosts Recycling and Composting Rates." ScienceDaily, 21 April 2017.
  4. Shaufique, F. Sidique, Frank Lupi, Satish V. Joshi. "The Effects of Behavior and Attitudes on Drop-off Recycling Activities," Resource Conservation and Recycling, 54:3, January 2010, pp. 163-170.
  5. U.S. Government Accountability Office. "Additional Efforts Could Increase Municipal Recycling," GAO-07-37, Dec 29, 2006.
  6. Amanda Birkner, Kim Celusnak, Gina Nutini, et al., "Predicted Recycling Bin Usage in Apartment Complexes," Undergraduate Research Journal for the Human Sciences, Volume 9, 2010.
  7. M. Martin, I.D. Williams, M. Clark, "Social, Cultural and Structural Influences on Household Waste Recycling: A Case Study," Resource Conversation and Recycling, 48:4, October 2006, pp 357-395.
  8. Travis P. Wagner, "Examining the Concept of Convenient Collection: An Application to Extended Producer Responsibility and Product Stewardship Frameworks," Waste Management, 2012.
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Idea No. 274