Changing “Waste-d” Behavior

Thursday night in class, we discussed the role of government services vs. contracting out, based on Charles T. Goodsell’s article, “Six Normative Principles for the Contracting-Out Debate.” Two of my classmates work for the City of Alexandria. We discussed the decision-making rationale for City services:  refuse collection is conducted by in-house by City employees, and recycling services are contracted out to private industry.

Alexandria City Collection Truck

City of Alexandria Collection Truck

During our class break, a fellow student (who manages the refuse and recycling programs for Alexandria) asked what would happen if the City of Alexandria swapped out my current City-provided garbage container for a smaller one. His point: would I recycle more, if the trash I generate is greater than the container?

Alexandria Recycling Bins

City of Alexandria Recycling Bins

Interesting question. Can the size of the trash container dictate my behavior?

Next question: would I collect food and yard waste IF the City provided a third container. My answer: absoLUTEly! What a great idea! If the City of Alexandria made it easier to collect and reuse waste, I would take the time to fill the containers.

Going with his line of thinking, I asked if the City ever considered providing rain barrels to collect water runoff from neighborhood houses, as well as household compost bins. Our fellow student from the Alexandria Budget Office stepped in and told me I could go out and buy my own rain barrels and compost bins.

But, IF the City wants to change my behavior, they need to make it EASY for me to make the desired choices. Right?

Rain Barrel

Rain Barrel

I love the City of Alexandria for trying out new ways to encourage recycling! Wouldn’t it be cool if a government worker could come out to my house and attach the rain barrel to my downspouts? NOTE: I’ve held off purchasing rain barrels because I’m afraid to disconnect the downspouts from the brick exterior of my house.

I know it sounds ridiculous to send someone out to my house to install a rain barrel. But, think about it — IF they did, the City could save money currently spent in water treatment and flood mitigation from excess run-off. I would use less water provided by public utilities, if I could water my flowers and garden with rain water collected from my very own house.  (I know. I know. Some of you will see that as a waste of tax payer money. But isn’t the government in the business of bringing about the public good? Think of the possibilities, if handled well.) 

This entire conversation applies directly to our LAUNCH: Beyond Waste challenge for ten game changing innovations. Part of what we’re looking for is innovative ways to change behavior so that citizens of planet Earth create less waste, and find ways to reuse the excess capacity we have. A few simple decisions by the City of Alexandria will shape how I sort, collect, and reuse my trash. A few extra steps and they could change how I use water.

LAUNCH: Beyond Waste

LAUNCH: Beyond Waste will be accepting proposals through May 15th. Perhaps we’ll see some intriguing behavior modification innovations, like the concepts the City of Alexandria is considering. (Hopefully, they will add rain barrel to their City-provided assets. Fingers crossed!)


Filed under innovation, LAUNCH

3 responses to “Changing “Waste-d” Behavior

  1. Yi Wei

    Agreed. It’s not that most people don’t want to help the environment, but we’re creatures of habit and inertia. Policymakers and designers need to think more about how to best set up the conditions so that “doing the right thing” is easier. Of course, how far that goes is another conversation, but being aware that people are rarely the rational, disciplined homo economicus being so long thought to be is the first step. A great book on just this is Nudge, by Thaler and Sunstein.

  2. Ken Brown

    Before you set up a rain collection barrel, make sure that your municipality, water district, etc. hasn’t made it illegal to collect rain water. As incredibly stupid as that may seem, there are many areas where this is the case. Even as our politicos drone on about being “green” and adopting renewable energy, there are equal or greater obstacles put in place at the local level to prevent these same advances. I am going to have to create a “Stupid” folder to bookmark this type of thing.

  3. Pingback: LAUNCH Borg: Collective Genius | Bethbeck's Blog

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