Alameda County, Calif., has a rather progressive waste management program, with a goal of diverting 75% of our waste from landfill by 2010. This would be a remarkable achievement, and according to this report, we’re currently diverting up to 68% of our waste. A key strategy for the county is bringing about “behavior change” around trash, composting and recycling.
But, Oakland has a classic service design problem to solve. Last week my homeowner’s association tried to be good citizens and swap one of our trash bins for a recycling bin. Instead of being celebrated for our waste reduction, we were greeted by multi-page forms authorizing a “site inspection.” Wait a minute, I was expecting a gold star for helping my community, so what’s with the suspicion and bureaucracy?
In my “mental model,” I’m a good citizen trying to help reduce waste. To the city of Oakland, I’m a potential scammer trying to get out of paying for trash collection by throwing my trash in the street. While enforcement of waste management is certainly important, Oakland needs to clean up their communication and outreach.
As we transition away from the first tier of “getting people to use recycling and green bins” and start seeing actual reduction, Alameda County will need new tools to support the behavior change they are bringing about. At the same time, they can further improve educational tools for us. Because I can never remember, is that milk carton recycling, or compost?
And does it matter?
— Gretchen Anderson