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Why it's near impossible for me to recycle

I'm a huge advocate for recycling, yet in the apartment complex I live in it's near impossible for me to recycle. The 5 phases of my recycling is shown visually in the comic I illustrated below.

Photo of Kaye Han
19 10

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Although very immediate things such as installing recycling depots on every floor in my apartment complex is possible, that's not where I'm focusing my problem. The aspect that I find interesting is my motivation and ability to remain optimistic throughout the process. If there was a way that gives feedback to people's good recycling behaviour (offer motivational reward), it may spark larger change. For example, what if every week the waste depots would let us know how much our floor recycled last week and what impact that has done.

Example: what if every time we went to the bin it displayed: 'you recycled over 5kg of plastic last week; that's one plastic chair!'. 

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Photo of Jes Simson

Hey Rob - such a great contribution. I really empathise with your experiences too.
Given that everyone will have different pain points / motivational drains in their recycling process how could we design feedback loops and motivational rewards that respond to these differences?

Photo of Kaye Han

You bring up a good point Jes, I think everybody is going to have different pain points because there are so many different situations in which we live and recycle. Houses, apartments, dormitories, culture, weather, logistics, etc. will all have varying effects on our situation - but I believe the desire is the same worldwide. People want to care for nature and/or do the right thing for world around us; so we need to concentrate on providing positive feedback from the impact we're making.

There's probably not going to be an all-encompassing solution (one size for all); no matter how much we all wished there was a magic bullet. So my thought is that we focus on providing feedback to people in how much impact they make and what is their progress. Essentially I would love to know how much I've recycled in the past until now, and what does that equate to. Is it 100 plastic chairs worth? 5,000 bottles? How much am I recycling now compared to a year ago, or compared to my friends?

What are your thoughts on how we should design the feedback loop to increase motivation?

Photo of Jes Simson

Hey Rob, I completely agree that having that knowledge about what impact your recycling efforts can have would be a great reinforcer and help keep momentum going throughout the whole process. This type of feedback would be incredible because it allows you to really conceptualise and imagine a process that is largely out of sight, out of might.

Maybe we could also help people identify the stages in their recycling process where they are more likely to loose interest and energy - and then communicate the benefits of recycling at those points?

I'm not really sure how you could achieve this, but it could be a really good motivational tool.

Photo of Kaye Han

Providing motivation during the process of recycling, that's certainly a difficult challenge - and therefore something worth thinking about. :) What pain points did you have in mind?

For me, I actually become unmotivated most when I'm at the grocery store - there are so many plastic bottles and packaging that it becomes overwhelming to think the majority does not get recycled. It's incredibly demoralising. I think to myself, "how much impact can I possibly be making by only recycling one bag a week?".

This is why I think if there was some collective feed that lets us know how much impact we're doing at all times (our progress), it will help the situation overall by constant motivation.

Photo of Jes Simson

Hey Rob - As far as pain points go - this research phase has taught us that there are many and they really differ:

* being overwhelmed by the problem - so going to the supermarket and being overwhelmed by how much material needs to be recycled - this requires a level of trust that other people will recycle so that your efforts aren't in vain / it also requires a level of trust that the recycling process works. … So how do we build and communicate this trust within communities?

* every little helps - given the enormity of the problem and the small actions required to recycle - its really hard to conceptualise how your actions can make an impact - so how do we help people conceptualise the impact of their and their communities actions? This goes straight to the point that you have made.

* barriers in the process - so not knowing how to recycle different materials / not having adequate bins in the places where you want to throw out recyclable goods / an inability to easily dispose of recyclables / fitting recycling into a family routine and busy schedule / laziness (its easier to throw out a mouldy container than clean it out for recycling) - each of these pain points will generate its own motivational barrier - so how do we motivate people during these stages to recycle?

Some potential solutions:

* lack of knowledge on how to recycle: increasing knowledge and information (so, perhaps using packaging to communicate how to recycle materials better in conjunction with a website that allows you to tailor information and knowledge to local recycling practices - although this is still a lot of effort).

* inadequate recycling bins in the home - help people design ways to include recycling tubs in the places they need them most so that sorting is easy (like the kitchen)

* inability to easily dispose of recyclables - this goes to the points about inadequate facilities in your apartment block and inadequate council facilities etc - although solving the root problems will probably lead to more systemic change, perhaps we need to use motivational tools at these points to help people.

I definitely think that your suggestion to link consequences / impact to behaviour will be a great motivator.

Photo of Kaye Han

Jes, thanks for summarising the different pain points that people are discovering during the recycling process. It helps! As we've seen, recycling is about lots of small actions that accumulates to a big impact; I often feel that there needs to be intervention on a large scale to incentivise recycling - which immediately brings to mind government. The big issue here is obviously that we can't wait for them to stop sitting on their hands to get something done.

Excuse the grandiose thoughts here; but If there was a way to create a cultural movement maybe towards a more responsible and sustainability-driven society - that would be awesome. Women's rights, racial equality, etc. were all once seen as problems not solvable by single people - but ultimately it was solved by single people. Lots of single people doing small things here and there that ultimately snow-balled into something great. Time to ideate!

Photo of Jes Simson

There has definitely been a move in advertising to start social movements and change on behalf of brands which shows that change is possible in a non-governmental space. Check out Macquarie Dictionaries "phubbing" campaign which introduced a word for people who look at their phones rather than the people they are with, or Metro trains "dumb ways to die" to try and stop the number of deaths around trains.

Photo of Kaye Han

Haha I love "dumb ways to die", incredibly catchy and something very successful in the advertising field. Leo Burnett's Earth Hour was also impressive in my opinion, less so for its impact and more for the exposure it provides to the problem at hand. There definitely are movements in the non-government field which is inspiring, but I'm wondering if there are any ways to push the government to get involved. Not necessarily in legislation, but...how might we get the government to provide support for homes to recycle more?

Photo of Karoline K

Great conversations guys! I'd love to see how you might translate these learnings into the ideas phase.. Maybe a movement is the way to go? p.s I also love 'dumb ways to die' - maybe we need a 'dumb ways to waste' ..

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