Episode 161: Exploring Sustainable Behavior & Impact

Meet Louise Bruce, director of The Center for Sustainable Behavior & Impact at The Recycling Partnership. In our latest episode of NothingWasted!, we spoke with Bruce about the process of taking research and applying it to real-world solutions, the need to support communities in their recycling efforts, advice for recyclers and more.

Meet Louise Bruce, director of The Center for Sustainable Behavior & Impact at The Recycling Partnership. In our latest episode of NothingWasted!, we spoke with Bruce about the process of taking research and applying it to real-world solutions, the need to support communities in their recycling efforts, advice for recyclers and more.

Here is a sneak peek into the discussion:

Waste360: Can you tell us a little about your personal journey into the waste and recycling industry?

Bruce: I started my waste journey as a New York City community composter. My partner and I turned a vacant lot into a community-composting project. That really opened my eyes personally to the fact that waste is so much more than a municipal management project and public service. And that became a springboard for me—I went on to work at the NYC Department of Sanitation. 

Waste360: Tell us about this new center at The Recycling Partnership.

Bruce: This is our new initiative to make it easy for all people to recycle all their recyclable materials all of the time. The Recycling Partnership has been working very hard to make sure people can recycle; that we’re investing appropriately in infrastructure, working with producers on design. But all along the way, we noticed a really critical piece that has to be built along with that, and that is support for people; making sure they can participate.

Waste360: What are the specific goals of the center?

Bruce: Our research has shown that recycling in a highly valued public institution. And yet, we find that people are confused—perhaps lack confidence or necessary information—and at the bin, that has a serious impact. We measure that somewhere around half of residential recyclables are lost through behavior gaps in single-family homes with access to recycling. This is about 15 million tons that could be captured but are currently going to landfills. The center is meant to address these challenges to deliver innovative people-based solutions to support people at every step of their recycling journey.

Waste360: How will you be tracking the success of the center’s programs?

Bruce: We will be looking for increased participation and increased capture of recyclable materials. We’re very focused on measuring and evaluating any solutions based on these metrics—also confidence through our Recycling Confidence Index, because we see a strong correlation between an individual’s confidence and their participation. Along the way, we’ll be building a robust understanding of what motivates an individual to participate, or not. We’ll be testing messaging in focus groups, so there will be a rigorous process going from research, to ideation, to prototyping, to focus-group testing, and then real-world testing.

Waste360: I know one of the center’s goals is to address equity in recycling. How will you tackle that?

Bruce: This is a goal widely held across The Recycling Partnership. With respect to the center specifically, we are currently working on an equitable outreach toolkit. That will include best practices, and we are starting to think about how can we achieve scale while designing solutions that address and celebrate the different challenges we all face. We’re also looking at the value of trans-creation—as opposed to translation. Just because something is translated doesn’t mean it’s well understood. Instead, we want to take a [more holistic and creative] approach to make sure messages resonate with whatever audience you might be speaking with. We work with speakers of the audience we’re looking to engage, to make sure concepts are well communicated.

Listen to the full episode above.

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