PHILADELPHIA — The City’s Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet today announced the results of two studies in coordination with the City’s GovLabPHL Behavioral Science Initiative. The results show that changes to trash can placement and using trash cans with lids could be an important tool to help the City tackle its Zero Waste goal to eliminate the use of landfills and conventional incinerators by 2035.

“These studies show how the City is committed to applying data and evidence to answer important policy questions and to best determine how resources should be used,” said Anjali Chainani, Director of Policy and GovLabPHL. “Engaging our academic partners and the Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet to use behavioral science allows us to have a better understanding of how people think and act when it comes to waste and how we can further inform our litter reduction strategies,” she added.

The Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet (ZWL Cabinet) intends to use the outcomes of these studies to help improve litter reduction efforts and increase recycling diversion.

“GovLabPHL allowed us to take behavioral science into Philly’s streets and neighborhoods to test out and refine new litter reduction strategies before going city-wide,” said Zero Waste and Litter Director Nic Esposito. “We are taking what we learned from these studies and directly applying it to the work of our Cabinet to create a litter-free city for all,” he concluded.

The first study on trash receptacle quantity will help the ZWL Cabinet make the economic and operational justification (based on litter reduction and reduction in staff hours picking up litter) to increase the number of publicly accessible waste receptacles in commercial corridors, parks, recreation centers and other highly trafficked streets. The ZWL Cabinet will also plan for future strategic placement of receptacles in public spaces and work with commercial businesses to increase trash cans along commercial corridors to decrease litter.

Additionally, the ZWL Cabinet intends to use the outcomes from the second study on recycling bins to craft policy and regulation on increasing recycling bin distribution locations through a strategic partnership with the Streets Department and the Department of Parks and Recreation, implementing city-wide composting, and on piloting larger recycling bins with lids.

Study 1: The Effect of Various Public Waste Receptacle Numbers on Litter and Staff Time
This study examined how increasing or decreasing the number of public trash receptacles impacts trash collected from within remaining receptacles, trash collected as litter, staff hours spent picking up litter, and the litter index (a new metric for measuring litter) for the area.

The study involved trash receptacles at four parks and four commercial corridors. The results showed that the effect of differing the number of receptacles on trash was varied and
inconclusive. The study saw both decreases and increases in the amount of trash collected in locations where trash receptacles were increased and decreased. The results did show that when trash receptacles decreased, trash collected as litter increased and staff time spent on collecting litter also increased.

Study 2: Testing the Effect of Lidded Recycling Bins on Recycling Volume to Prevent Litter
This study examined how recycling bin distribution with lids influences 1) tonnage (weight) of recycling from residences and 2) littering in the neighborhood. Recycling bins with lids were distributed at two recreation centers in Port Richmond and two in Brewerytown with the intention of influencing recycling volume and litter on two recycling routes in each neighborhood. Sanitation workers were asked to complete surveys to record lid use data and the litter index was used to preliminarily measure the effect of the treatments on litter rates.

The study found that the results varied by neighborhood. There were significant differences between the data results for the two routes in Brewerytown, therefore leading to inconclusive results. However, analysis of data from the two routes in Port Richmond showed a likely increase of recycling volume due to the increase of recycling bins. Preliminary analysis does not find evidence that bin distribution affected litter rates.

Qualitative data collected from conversations with residents who received lidded recycling bins noted that they would be more likely to use lids if the lids were attached. Residents also reported that they use the lids inside their home or in their backyard.

To read the full outcome of each study, click here.

About GovLabPHL
GovLabPHL is a multi-agency team led by the Mayor’s Policy Office focused on developing innovative and evidence-based practice in city government. The team is comprised of City employees with expertise across policy, operations, technology, and financial disciplines.

About the Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet
Philadelphia’s Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet is an interdepartmental effort to continually reduce the waste entering landfills or conventional incinerators, combat litter, and enhance the cleanliness of streets and public spaces. Composed of major City departments and agencies, City Council representatives, community stakeholders, and chaired by the Managing Director’s Office, the Cabinet works across five target areas to make Philadelphia a less littered, zero waste City.