Behavior change in the Big Apple: trading compost for fresh-produce credits

Behavior change in the Big Apple: trading compost for fresh-produce credits

Recently, my co-worker Meghan McDonald wrote a Shelton Insights feature about composting programs around the country.

She singled out New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s initiative as a sign that composting is quickly gaining steam. Like the gradual adoption of recycling, Bloomberg’s plan is to make composting voluntary at first, which will help normalize the action and encourage more city residents to adopt it. Eventually, the plan is to make composting mandatory throughout the city.

The biggest challenge that Bloomberg’s initiative faces is normalizing the composting process, as plenty of people view composting as anything but appealing.

The thought of separating food scraps and other organic materials from the rest of their garbage, then letting it sit somewhere in their homes (most New York City residents won’t have a backyard as an option) comes across as unappealing to many.

But the positives for the city available through composting are worth the effort of its residents.

It’s estimated that with increased composting the city could save upwards of $100 million a year by not having to export its organic waste to landfills, most of which are outside the state of New York.

Still, the goodwill associated with reducing food waste won’t motivate every city resident.  Encouraging lasting behavior change is often successful when participants are incentivized. This is where a new NYC project appears to have a good idea on how to encourage more city residents to adopt composting.

Hello Compost is a nonprofit that provides odor-blocking bags to New York City residents where they can put their food scraps. The bags are designed to be colorful and attractive – the antidote to the ugly black trash bag. Hello Compost collects and weighs the bags, then translates the weight into credits that can be used to buy fresh produce.

Now, there is a catch: this program is available only to lower-income residents. We know from our research that many lower-income Americans consider environmental activities to be a low priority. In fact, Working Class Realists (one of our proprietary segments) views “making ends meet” as their highest priority. To that point, I think Hello Compost is onto something.

It makes perfect sense to try and help ease their monthly burden by giving them an opportunity to earn free food AND make a difference in their city. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hello Compost’s project really gets the ball rolling in New York City well ahead of Bloomberg’s mandatory composting change.


Posted on

August 5, 2013

About the Author

Pat Lorentz

Pat is a former contributor to Shelton Insights.

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