Solid Waste & Recycling


SWANA/SWRC Reforum 2014- Behaviour Change Through Compassionate Systems

Friday morning’s keynote speaker Rubin Anderson gave a spirited talk on using compassionate systems to change behaviour. A thrust of his talk involved debunking what he considered the top ten human behavior myths on why they can’t/won’t change their behaviours.

Top 10 myths of behavior change:

  1. People are lazy
  2. People don’t care
  3. Education will facilitate
  4. If it does not impact the wallet people don’t care
  5. Need a carrots and stick approach
  6. People are the problem
  7. Immigrants don’t care
  8. All about convenience
  9. Regulation is the only way
  10. For business it is the bottom line

Not that it matters particularly but I’m not so sure they are all myths and in fact think that there are some truisms in that list. I think that our decisions are influenced by qualitative and quantitative drivers. Qualitative drivers encourage you to undertake some behavior with no risk of sanction (e.g. Please put our your recycling each week). Quantitative drivers compel you to undertake some behavior with the risk of sanction for non compliance (e.g. Your garbage will be collected every two weeks).

Nonetheless and more compelling his key point appeared to be that the human brain is bombarded by stimuli, tasks and the need to make decisions. A small part of our brain is available to actively make decisions each day. We don’t want recycling decisions to occupy that part of the brain- it takes too much energy.

So for recycling to really work this decision-making needs to be part of our brain’s automated decision-making process (e.g. I automatically separate out my recyclables from my garbage and don’t give it any thought).

I chatted with him afterwards to get a better perspective of what he was thinking. In essence his compassionate system works to alleviate the decisions people need to make and allowing them to focus on their immediate needs. Recycling and waste diversion could be enhanced, as it turns out, in part at least by regulation, which ultimately could help people’s decision-making requirements.  These regulations would include forcing manufacturers to design only products and packaging that could ultimately be recycled and move away from the ongoing challenges of new packaging materials that struggle to fit in with our current recycling systems.

See a past video of his presentation

See the following for Ruben’s blog.

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