Do the Holes on Recycling Bins Make You Want to Recycle?

by Tim Fulton on February 6, 2009

Japanese Recycling Bins

Image: Wootang01

It’s been a while since I was last in Japan to see the colourful recycling bins with their suggestive openings, but I remember an urge to recycle so strong that I almost purchased things just to be able to dispose of them.

Well, perhaps that’s a stretch, but according to a researcher at Rutgers the recycling bins with the holes shaped to what belongs in them get 34% more action than those that look more like regular trash bins:

People fail to recycle for a number of reasons, including misinformation and forgetfulness; however, it is also a design problem. My coauthor Michelle Verges and I were talking over the phone about why everyone says they recycle, but if you look around, there is a lot of recyclable material in trash cans. We then went around looking through different kinds of recycling bins and trash cans, examining their contents. We began noticing a pattern: Regardless of the receptacle’s label, recycling bins with little holes in the lids contained recyclables and almost nothing else, while those that lacked those holes were basically used as trash cans. So we carried out a study having recycling bins in one building either with or without the hole, and found that the presence of the hole increased the recycling rate by 34%, which is an enormous increase.

I always assumed that the holes were so that you wouldn’t shove old cereal boxes into the can or plastic bottle bins, but it seems those holes might play a bigger role in the way people recycle.

Have you ever noticed the tendency for shaped recycling bins to be more effective at keeping recycleables out of the trash or do you think it’s a bunch of bunk?


1 Eniryt Manaen February 6, 2009 at 2:51 pm

I studied in Japan at a university in Yokohama. I remember asking about why the recycling bins all had windows cut into them. A Japanese student explained to me that it was actually a security consideration. After the Aum Shinrikyo Sarin Gas attack on the Tokyo subway in the 90’s, Japanese officials were worried about bombs being placed in trash recepticles. So unfortunately they weren’t designed to encourage recycling as far as I know.

What’s striking about Japan is the lack of public recycling bins. They’re remarkably hard to find. Often you won’t even find them adjacent to the numerous vending machines. Regardless of this, I almost never saw any trash or discarded bottles during my stay in Japan.

2 Benjamin Jones February 6, 2009 at 9:08 pm

Thanks for the comment. I found the same thing. I always wondered where the recycling bins were, but eventually I realized there weren’t any trash cans either. Kind of strange, but evidently there was some sort of trash clean up program years ago that removed public waste recipticles.

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