Nudging People to Keep Cities Clean

Philadelphia looked at how interventions can change recycling and littering behavior.

1 minute read

January 8, 2019, 1:00 PM PST

By Camille Fink

Trash Can

Lyn Lomasi / Wikimedia Commons

Nandi O'Connor of GovLabPHL discusses two experiments the city of Philadelphia conducted to better understand how behavioral science could be used to increase recycling and decrease littering.

The first experiment targeted recycling behavior. While the city makes containers available to residents at designated locations, it provided lidded recycling bins to residents on routes in two neighborhoods in this case. The effect was inconclusive in one neighborhood, but recycling volumes increased in the other.

The other intervention involved increasing or decreasing the number of trash receptacles in various parks and along corridors in the city. Overall, the findings showed that increasing the number of trash containers resulted in city staff spending 30 minutes less per day picking up litter.

"We learned that existing data collection procedures are not always created for the purposes of evaluation, and the results have inspired us to improve data collection procedures for future experiments," says O'Connor. She also notes that the results will inform policy decisions as the city works to reach its zero-waste goals.

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