According to a study from the Environmental Defense Fund and energy-management software company OPower, Americans who get better power meter data (from both regular and smart meters) cut energy consumption by an average of 1.8% in the first year. The main reason is that they see how much power their neighbors are using.
I think we should do this with recycling.
If we mail or email monthly reports that compare how much recycling a specific household does with their neighbors, I think we will see some positive and permanent results.
Explain your idea in one sentence
Show people how much their neighbors recycle and display easy ways for them to improve their own habits.
Every month or two, households recieve a report in their mail of how much recycling they have been doing compared to that of their peers. It will be a simple and easy to read graph (like the picture above) with methods on how to improve their own recycling habits.
This idea could succeed because there are studies that prove it works with power. The
study showed that the change was both substantial and long term.
Jackie lives with her husband and two kids in an old victorian home in San Francisco. She has three bins: a garbage bin, a recycling bin and a compost bin, which she drags out onto the sidewalk every Wednesday night. When she looks at her bins, she finds the garbage overflowing with trash, the recycling bin about half full and the compost bin nearly empty. As she struggles to make the black garbage bin contain all of her family's trash, she looks around and notices that her next door neighbors have done a much better job distributing their waste. She goes over and checks their bins and in fact, there is more waste in the recycling bin, then there is in the trash. Jackie knows that her neighbor is of similar economic status and comes from the same size household, but it seems as if she has done a better job recycling. Jackie considers herself a knowledgable person when it comes to recycling. She understands that plastic bottles and aluminum cans go into the blue bin and it doesn't cross her mind that her neighbor might know more than her. She chalks up the difference to the idea that maybe her neighbors ate out more that week.
The next day, she checks her mail and gets a letter that says, on average, her neighbors recycle 30 percent more than her. She has no idea how this is possible, but then she reads more of the letter and realizes how many easy, but effective things she can do to help her percentage. She starts to bring her own bags with her to the grocery store. She puts a "NO JUNK MAIL" sticker on her mail box. And she actively shops for products that come in recyclable containers. Within a few weeks, her garbage pile is halved. Within the year, she has replaced her once overflowing black bin with a smaller one. It is less heavy then it used to be.
Describe how your idea would help form new habits and improve recycling at home
The smart meter study proved that people react to data and they don't like being outdone by their neighbors.
If we show them that they aren't as efficient as the rest of the block, they will want to act. The next step is just showing them how.
The monthly statement would help form new habits because it will display simple and easy ways to do so.
The power study also showed that these tactics kept sustained levels of reduced power consumption. An important key to this challenge is creating methods that encourage permanent change.
How might you design an early, lightweight experiment to further develop your idea?
Find a neighborhood that is already aware of their recycling habits and would willingly engage in small sample test. In the power test that surveyed 75,000 homes, only 2 percent of home opted out. If we could find an environmentally conscious neighborhood, I think most homes will be willing to partake in the experiment.
What aspects of your idea could benefit from the input of our OpenIDEO community?
I think the big challenge here is how to track the amount of recycling of each household. Please share your thoughts! This idea is meant to be simple and nonintrusive so the less effort required by the household, the better.
Another issue is what to suggest to households who are already doing a good job recycling. What else can we say besides, "Keep up the good work!"