Today, the Cabinet announced the results of two studies in coordination with the City’s GovLabPHL Behavioral Science Initiative. The results show that changes to trash can placement and using trash and recycling bins with lids could be an important tool to help the City tackle its Zero Waste goal to eliminate the use of landfills and conventional incinerators by 2035.
GovLabPHL is a multi-agency team centered on embedding evidence-based and data-driven practices into City programs and services through cross-sector collaboration, and the experiments were conducted in partnership with GovLab’s academic partners from Temple University, Swarthmore College, and the University of Pennsylvania.
In the discourse surrounding litter, many reasons are cited such as socioeconomic conditions, learned behavior, and lack of resources and infrastructure. Through its partnership with GovLabPHL, the Cabinet executes experiments using data-driven, scientific methods to learn more about what truly motivates individual actions related to litter and waste to identify ways to minimize waste and tackle litter in Philadelphia.
Studying the Effect of Public Waste Receptacle Placement on Litter and Staff Time
The first experiment tested the effects of adding and removing public waste receptacles at parks and commercial corridors on litter levels and the time staff spent collecting trash and removing litter. The number of trash cans available in four parks and three commercial corridors was adjusted during certain periods, and the amount of trash collected from cans and the staff time spent collecting litter was measured. Litter Indexing was used to measure litter rates under the different trash can placement scenarios, and these were the results:
- Less trash was collected from receptacles when trash receptacles were less available.
- When there were fewer trash cans available, more litter was collected and staff spent more time cleaning litter.
Studying the Effect of Distributing Lidded Recycling Bins on Recycling Volume and Litter
The second experiment tested the effect of distributing lidded recycling bins on recycling rates and litter levels. Lidded recycling bins were distributed at two recreation centers in Port Richmond and two in Brewerytown, and then recycling volume and litter rates were measured in each neighborhood. Sanitation workers also recorded information on if and how people were using the lids. These were the results:
- In Port Richmond, distributing recycling bins led to increased levels of recycling.
- Preliminary analysis did not find evidence that bin distribution affected litter rates.
- Some residents said that they would be more likely to use lids if the lids were attached. Residents also reported that they use the lids inside their homes or in their backyards.
How Are the Results Being Used?
The results from these experiments are already being used to help the City make data-informed decisions related to trash can placement and bin distribution in Philadelphia. The results are being used:
- To make the economic and operational justification to increase the number of publicly accessible trash cans across many assets such as commercial corridors, parks, recreation centers, and other highly-trafficked streets, based on litter reduction and reduction in staff hours picking up litter with increased trash can availability
- To explore new ways to increase trash can coverage through unique partnership models between the City, community groups, and businesses
- To craft policy and regulation on increasing recycling bin distribution locations through a strategic partnership with the Streets Department and Philadelphia Parks & Recreation
- To pilot an investment in larger bins with attached lids
- To inform the possible purchasing of bins for a future city-wide residential composting program
The Cabinet is currently running an experiment to test the effect of positive and negative messaging on illegal dumping behavior, a study which will run until spring of 2019.
Building off of the completed experiments and their outcomes, we will continue will continue to study trash receptacle placement and recycling bin distribution to further inform the City’s investments and policies in these areas and will also expand its focus to new waste and litter-related topics. Stay tuned for news on the Cabinet’s current and future behavioral science experiments!