April 6, 2008 -- You walk out of your house in the morning and notice your neighbours have put their recycling out. Do you A) make a mental note to recycle more or B) ignore it entirely? A researcher from the University of Southampton, UK, suggests that most people living in cities opt for B.
Peter Shaw focused his study on a part of London where kerbside recycling is available to 90% of households and practiced to some extent by up to 81%, but where just 9% of waste gets recycled.
He first collected data on the distribution of households that did recycle. Then he used a computer model to generate a random distribution of recycling households.
Any non-random clusters of houses are those where neighbours influence each other's behaviour, he says.
On a typical long street, urban citizens are unaffected by peer pressure, Shaw says. On linear blocks of 15 or more houses, non-random clusters of recycling households were rare or absent.
Short and Sweet
The situation was slightly different in cul-de-sac streets and shorter streets of fewer than 15 houses. The shorter the street, the more neighbours appeared to behave in the same way. The effect was most pronounced in cul-de-sacs.
"There seems to be an influence of street architecture on the community," says Shaw.
The results suggest "recycling champion" schemes, where individuals are encouraged to lead by example, could work well in certain neighbourhoods.
Elsewhere, making recycling mandatory or having schemes that reward people for recycling could be more effective.