ideas42 Trashes Misconceptions About Waste Disposal Behavior in NYC Housing Developments with Behavioral Design

New report outlines partnership with City of New York to test changes to waste removal infrastructure and communication at NYCHA housing developments, resulting in significantly less litter, trash, and waste

July 30, 2020 NY, NY— ideas42 today announced results from a study aimed at improving trash and waste disposal in New York public housing developments and dispelling myths about resident behavior in the new report Trashing Misconceptions About Behavior. The study, which was done in partnership with public housing residents, found that providing easier access to trash disposal infrastructure, complemented by communications about behavior, significantly reduced the amount of trash, litter, and dog waste on public housing grounds.

The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) is the largest manager of public housing in North America, and provides housing to 1 in 15 New Yorkers. Buildup of excess trash and other waste due to improper disposal is common across NYCHA developments, and creates frustration for residents and housing caretakers, as well as health and safety concerns. It also can also create negative (and false) perceptions about resident behavior and motivations.

To address quality of life concerns identified by residents like these in NYCHA developments, the City conducted a series of community-based research activities as part of the Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety in the City of New York. To address resident concerns about improper waste disposal, the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ) sponsored a partnership with ideas42, NYCHA, and the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College.

ideas42 spoke with NYCHA residents to understand what was driving the problem, and used their feedback to design and test ways to support proper disposal. It became clear that residents did not have a convenient option for proper disposal of standard size trash bags, which did not fit into NYCHA buildings’ trash chutes, and existing guidance was unclear or focused on what not to do. To meet residents’ needs, ideas42 created the following designs:

  1. installation of large, moveable trash containers (tilt trucks) and trash cans in convenient locations.
  2. A package of posters, placed indoors and outdoors, to inform people of the new policy and encourage them to use the new infrastructure.

An evaluation of the new signage coupled with additional receptacles for trash disposal revealed significant decreases in the amount of trash visible at NYCHA developments that received the intervention. Following a 4-month randomized controlled trial across 53 NYCHA sites, trash disposal improved across the board:

  • The average number of improperly-placed household trash bags left outside decreased by 25%
  • The average number of litter pieces on grounds decreased by 16% 
  • The average instances of identification of dog waste decreased by 11%

Greg Russ, NYCHA Chair and CEO, said: “NYCHA is making transformational investments in waste management to improve the quality of life for our residents. The ideas42 study, which showed successful results from conveniently-placed receptacles and compelling signage to improve cleanliness and encourage proper disposal habits, has been integrated into our broader waste management strategy, and will be included in future capital plans and projects. These changes, along with many of NYCHA’s waste and pest reduction investments, have significantly reduced rat activity at these developments.”

Elizabeth Glazer, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, said, “New Yorkers are the experts on their own communities, which is why we must listen to and act upon what they say to ensure their safety and health. We’re grateful for the hard work done by public housing residents, ideas42, and NYCHA to make neighborhoods more vibrant and help residents thrive.”

The additional receptacles and communication designs relied on collaboration with NYCHA staff and residents, and were rooted in their feedback and lived experiences. Recognizing that people are motivated to take care of their environment, the new infrastructure makes it easier for residents to dispose of trash properly, and the new signs give them clear guidance about how and where to do so.

Anthony Barrows, Managing Director at ideas42, commented: “These results demonstrate the power of listening to people. When we deploy new structures and resources, they can create real behavioral change when they meet the needs of a community. Our findings suggest that many quality of life issues are caused by a lack of available channels for socially and environmentally conscious behaviors, rather than any lack of knowledge or desire. People want clean neighborhoods, we just need to make it easier for them to keep it that way.” 

The results from Trashing Misconceptions About Behavior serve as a proof-of-concept that new resources can measurably change people’s quality of life when they center on lived experiences and are designed in collaboration with communities.

For a full report on the study, visit this page.

Media Contact: 

Mitra Salasel, ideas42 mitra@ideas42.org

About ideas42: 

ideas42 is a non-profit that uses insights from human behavior—why people do what they do—to help improve lives, build better systems, and drive social change. For more than a decade, we’ve been at the forefront of applying behavioral science in the real world. Our efforts have so far extended to 45 countries as we’ve partnered with governments, foundations, NGOs, private enterprises, and a wide array of public institutions–in short, anyone who wants to make a positive difference in peoples’ lives.

ideas42’s economic justice portfolio works closely with the communities we serve to design and advocate for behaviorally informed solutions that make it easier for people facing economic hardship in the U.S. to exercise their power for individual, community, and systems change. We envision a U.S. where a shared, behaviorally informed narrative of poverty removes inequities that prevent all people from leading fulfilled lives of their own definition. For more, visit ideas42.org

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