Facebook bin of shame encourages students to recycle

By Fiona Trott
BBC News


Imagine your friends being able to examine every item in your kitchen bin. The food waste, the treats you buy and the brands you use.

That is exactly what a group of students are subjecting themselves to in Newcastle.

In a third floor flat at the halls of residence in Gosforth, Helen Mamalaki and Alice Morley are clearing up after breakfast with their friends.

Theirs is an interesting and somewhat unhealthy choice - doughnuts, chocolate cereal and some kind of sponge cake with sprinkles on it.

The amount of empty wrappers and boxes is also remarkable. Disposing of them poses a challenge

Everything the students throw into their bin is caught on camera and automatically uploaded to Facebook as part of an environmental challenge.

If there is anything in there that could be recycled, they will lose points and slide down the league table of participants. Worse still, they could be shamed by their friends.

"Sometimes we get caught out," explained Alice.

"If you're really tired, you think, oh well, it doesn't matter.

"Or, you're not really thinking about what you're doing one day and you accidentally throw something out that could have been recycled and other people see your mistake."

Name and shame

According to the researchers, that is why this experiment is working.

"There's a 'naming and shaming' element to it, but the students enjoy it," said project leader Anje Thieme.

"Normally, when you throw something away, the lid goes down and you forget about it.

"But by taking a photograph and uploading it to Facebook, it's a bit like having your conscience sat on your shoulder."

The webpage lists the four households that are taking part in the project. The students can click on each bin and it brings up dozens of images taken over the past few weeks.

Crisp packets and sprouting potatoes are a regular feature, but if there is a milk carton that could be recycled, the viewer can leave a critical remark.

The students can also click on the 'Bin League' which uses a tree symbol to show how each household is performing.

The more they recycle, the more leaves it grows. If they do not throw out food, each household also gets a gold bar, to show that they are saving money.

The researchers say the BinCam has been easy to install. A camera phone is attached to the lid of each bin and when it closes, a sensor triggers it off.

Image caption,
Wheelie good idea - the BinCam scheme is increasing students' rate of recycling

The phone then uses its 3G or WiFi connection to upload the image to the BinCam Facebook app.

Only those involved in the project can view it, which may be just as well - bananas with cheeky messages written on them and close ups of people's faces have also been catalogued.

Worst recyclers

The reason why students are being targeted in this research is because 18-34 year olds are seen to be the worst at recycling.

One of the university's psychologists, Dr Rob Comber said, "When we turn 18 we haven't got those people around us who guide us into making the right decisions on issues like sustainability.

"BinCam helps to change the behaviour of a group which might otherwise be unaware of the consequences of their actions."

Back at the halls of residence, Helen Mamalaki is putting newspapers, card and glass into a recycling bin.

"The experiment has made us really aware of what we're doing," she said.

In fact, researchers say that in the first week, the webpage was full of photos of beer cans and pizza boxes, but after two weeks, there were hardly any at all. The bins were being emptied less often because more was being recycled.

When the students leave their communal surroundings, will this model behaviour last?

If not, there could be a new breed of competitive recyclers at the university. Its waste manager has been following the experiment closely and now has his eyes set on the staff.

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