By Kelsey Davis
It’s no secret that the signage on trash and recycling bins on campus is a source of confusion. The single-stream system, introduced in 2010, has improved recycling rates, but the phrasing of the signage often leaves students scratching their heads. The recycling bin features the phrase “for everything except food waste,” while the trash bin features “for trash with food only.” The 2012 Recycling Action Research Team found that only 32% of students considered the signage “clear and easily understood.” Our research provides more evidence for a need for clear and informative signage.
We found that plastic food containers, cardboard food containers, plastic cup lids, and coffee cup sleeves were among the most common items incorrectly sorted into the trash in North Campus. It seems that while students know that paper and plastic products are recyclable, they aren’t sure what to do when they have a coffee cup lid with liquid residue or a plastic food container with leftover food.
The solution? Clear, simple signage. The 2014 Zero Waste Pauley ART found that signage drastically improved correct sorting rates at Dance Marathon. While everyone agrees that clear signage is the solution, there is disagreement over what changes should be made to the current signage and how to implement them. Our team hopes to contribute to the conversation by designing our own signage and posting it in an area of North Campus. If our signage improves correct sorting rates, it may shed light on what type of signage can be effective and informative. We plan to incorporate graphics and address sorting issues posed by items with food residue, encouraging students to scrape any food waste into the trash bin and recycle the container.
Changing student behavior requires equipping students with the correct information. Clear, informative signage is one piece of the puzzle that will increase our campus recycling rates.