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Have you ever been confused when deciding into which bin to put your trash? We have, and even more, we have seen others being confused. In The Natural Step Finland, we believe that labels should reflect human psychology and help direct waste to the right recycling bins. The problem happens when inconsistent and hard-to-read labels create confusion. People in doubt are most inclined to opt for an easy solution – throwing everything in mixed waste.

According to a recent article published by YLE (in Finnish), an eight-week research showed that ⅓ of what was found inside mixed waste bags should have actually been in bio waste. Two years ago, a similar research in Saarijärvi showed that bio waste share of the mixed waste bag was 25%. As we see, the situation has not changed, even after a new waste act prohibiting landfilling of biowaste from the beginning of 2016. So, why do people actually put waste in wrong bins and what can we do to correct it?

There are many things that affect how well waste is sorted into correct recycling bins: placement of waste containers, colour and location of signs, even the size of a font. Colour helps to indicate waste categories and easily memorize them. For people, it is easier to read labels that are placed above the bins, instead of right in front of them. Text in recycling bin labels should be minimum, preferably with universal visual symbols.

Now from theory and research to a real example. In The Natural Step Finland, we have a shared office, where we are working side by side with several other companies. We have common facilities, such as a kitchen and meeting rooms, and the same recycling station in a shared kitchen space. In addition to hidden in the cabinetry bio -, cardboard and energy waste containers, we have two waste bins for mixed – and plastic waste. They are simply two containers standing next to each other by the kitchen table. More often than not, people are dumping trash into a plastic recycling bin and recyclable waste into the mixed waste bin.

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Previously above the bins were two pieces of paper taped to the wall, with “sekajäte” (mixed waste) and “muovijäte” (plastic waste) handwritten on them. For the next two weeks, we are conducting a small experiment, by replacing the old signs with the printed colour-coded labels. The new labels have a list of waste and visual symbols, indicating what should go into the bins.

In the comment section below we would like to hear your opinion and suggestions about the most user-friendly and easiest ways to get people in the office to put waste into the right recycling bins. We believe that each of us can contribute to eliminating confusion and become a part of the solution, instead of a problem.

Take few seconds to answer our three question survey about improving waste recycling at the workplace. 

Into which categories do you separate waste at your office?
How are waste sorting instructions communicated at your workplace?
What are your suggestions for improving waste sorting in the office?