There really is a science to garbage collection, and in the City of Fayetteville, NC, it was not working.
The city had recently introduced new garbage collection trucks with side-arm loaders, which one staff person can operate as opposed to the standard practice of two to three garbage collectors per truck.
However, oblivious to this change, the residents continued to bring their trashcans to street just as they always had, often facing the wrong direction or too close to the mailbox or underneath low branches of trees. Instead of increasing efficiency in garbage collection, the trash collectors ended up – many times during their routes – having to get down from their trucks, moving the cans and then re-positioning the trucks to pick up and empty the cans. The collective impact of the resident’s behavior, seemingly small in isolation, was leading to significant inefficiencies.
Masters students from Sanford’s course on Behavioral Economics for Municipal Policy helped tackle this trash problem by ‘nudging’ the community and reminding them about the correct way to place their trash. Their on-the-ground experiment found that the use of a simple, well-designed sticker placed on top of the can increased compliance. Watch the video to learn more.
This experiment was one of thirteen such experiments conducted in partnership with various local governments across North Carolina. More such experiments are currently being conducted with various local governments to resolve day-to-day challenges in implementation of municipal projects through small nudges.
Preeti Prabhu is a 2016 graduate of Sanford’s Master in International Development Program, and currently works for a start-up in Durham, NC.