Where is the trash can?

Where is the trash can?

If it’s not close at hand, we may be tempting the litterbugs while encouraging the recyclers.

Two weeks ago, I left for Europe on a family vacation. After 15 hours of travel time and a weird yet somewhat tasty cucumber sandwich, we finally landed in Warsaw, Poland.

We headed to baggage claim, and I dug through my bag for a piece of gum to freshen up. I spotted what I thought was a trash can across the room, so I walked all the way over to it to throw away my gum wrapper and clean out my mobile trash can (a.k.a. my purse), only to find that it wasn’t a trash can – it was a recycling bin. I took another walk around baggage claim, and still no trash can.

Out on the streets, there was a similar theme. I saw large recycling bins and small trash cans on the sidewalks. And while at first I felt mildly inconvenienced, Poland’s lack of trash cans made me realize something.

THIS is the way it’s supposed to be. We SHOULD be recycling more and throwing away less, so why don’t we have more recycling bins on American city streets?

Some may argue that having fewer trash cans is a sure way to end up with more litter or trash in the recycling bin, but it could also be the path to behavior change.

Our most recent Eco Pulse study shows that recycling is the single most popular sustainable activity in America, with more than half of respondents claiming to always recycle the things most often picked up curbside, like aluminum cans and plastic bottles. Only 28 percent claimed to recycle things like electronics, which are harder to recycle – so we can definitely see a trend related to convenience.

Keep America Beautiful also recommends making trash cans convenient and accessible to avoid litter. Its 2009 Litter in America study found that most littering occurs at a considerable distance from a receptacle, stating that, “At the time of improper disposal, the average estimated distance to the nearest receptacles was 29 feet. The observed littering rate when a receptacle was 10 feet or closer was 12 percent, and the likelihood of littering increased steadily for receptacles at a greater distance.”

Our advice to you is to keep in mind that convenience is key. Whether you’re trying to engage employees in a recycling campaign or develop a new product or packaging, remember to make it easy for your audience to do the right thing.

It would be great if having more recycling bins and less trash cans would help change our behaviors and increase recycling rates, but despite our enthusiasm for recycling, we can’t take our eyes off the ball on the issue of making it convenient to dispose of things – whether it be something recyclable or just a gum wrapper.



Posted on

July 25, 2013

About the Author

Martha Wampler Behm

Martha is a former contributor to Shelton Insights.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *