Visual Prompts or Volunteer Models: An Experiment in Recycling

Z.Y. Lin, Xiao Wang, Chang Jun Li, M. Gordon, Marie Harder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Successful long-term programs for urban residential food waste sorting are very rare, despite the established urgent need for them in cities for waste reduction, pollution reduction and circular resource economy reasons. This study meets recent calls to bridge policy makers and academics, and calls for more thorough analysis of operational work in terms of behavioral determinants, to move the fields on. It takes a key operational element of a recently reported successful food waste sorting program—manning of the new bins by volunteers—and considers the behavioral determinants involved in order to design a more scalable and cheaper alternative—the use of brightly colored covers with flower designs on three sides of the bin. The two interventions were tested in a medium-scale, real-life experimental set-up that showed that they had statistically similar results: high effective capture rates of 32%–34%, with low contamination rates. The success, low cost and simple implementation of the latter suggests it should be considered for large-scale use. Candidate behavioral determinants are prompts, emotion and knowledge for the yellow bin intervention, and for the volunteer intervention they are additionally social influence, modeling, role clarification, and moderators of messenger type and interpersonal or tailored messaging.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 9 May 2016

Bibliographical note

© 2016 by the authors; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) license (


  • food waste
  • behavior change
  • recycling
  • urban
  • determinants
  • bin covers.


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