Where Do You Keep Your Compost Bin?

CC BY 2.0. Jessica Spengler

Placing a bin within 5 feet of front door increases composting rates by 141 percent.

The location of a compost bin could be affecting your willingness to use it. A group of researchers from the University of British Columbia found that the closer a main collection bin is to one's door, the more likely one is to use it. While this is a logical and unsurprising conclusion, it's interesting to see how small the changes have to be in order to make a big difference.

The 10-week study took place in several high-density residential buildings in Vancouver. Compost and recycling bins were placed in three locations -- the garbage disposal area (least convenient), at the bottom of the elevator (somewhat convenient), and just outside the doors of individual suites (most convenient).

The best results were seen when a compost bin was placed 1.5 meters (5 ft) from a door; this boosted composting rates by 141 percent, diverting an average of nearly 20 kilograms (44 lbs) of waste from landfill per person per year. If a bin went on each floor of an apartment building, instead of the ground floor, it increased composting rates by 70 percent, diverting 27 kg (59 lbs) of compost from landfill per unit per year.

Study co-author Jiaying Zhao mentions the "intention-action gap" in a UBC press release. This refers to the divergence between people's eagerness to be environmentally responsible and whether they actually follow through. Zhao believes that one's surroundings can be tweaked to make it easier to follow through with intentions:

"Traditional views are that we have to educate people about the importance of recycling and composting, but we believe that’s the wrong model because people already know. Simple factors, such as convenience, can be key to helping us become more environmentally friendly."

This 'convenience' thinking applies to all kinds of environmental lifestyle practices. When I think about zero-waste shopping, riding one's bicycle, buying local food, cooking from scratch, and hanging out one's laundry, to name a few, these environmentally-friendly actions happen on a regular basis only if they're as (or more) convenient than other, less-green options. If businesses hope to market themselves as green alternatives, and if municipalities hope to divert organic food waste from landfill, then they'd be well-advised to focus on how to make it the most accessible to all. Make it easier for people to 'live green', and they will.