Senior Studies Recycling Habits of Boarding Community

As co-coordinator of residential life with the School’s environmental group, EFFECT, Casey Li ’19 has been involved with environmental initiatives on campus for the past three years.

This year, she used her senior project as an opportunity to delve into the psyche of the boarding community and study the ways in which signage in the dorms might impact recycling rates.

Li chose to replicate the hotel towel studies, which showed that hotel guests were more likely to reuse their towels if there was signage that encouraged them to do so. Li brought this concept to the girls’ dorms by placing pro-recycling signage in two dorms — Ford and McCormack — for one month. Cole was the control dorm, and so received no signage.

In McCormack, Li tested the industry standard approach with signs encouraging the students to recycle in order to help save the environment; in Ford, she put up signs that implied social norms with language about joining dormmates in helping to save the environment. She then measured the amount of recycling found in the trash of each of the dorms to determine if the recycling in the trash decreased.

The results, Li said, “are very interesting. Cole carried on business as usual because there were no signals. In McCormack, there wasn’t any major change. In Ford, I did see — for a week — a steep decline in the amount of recycling found in trash.” But, she noted, that steep decline ended after one week because, she posits, “once students get used to seeing [the sign] they don’t acknowledge it.” Li also determined that “A lot of people don’t know how to recycle. Seeing that as I went through trash and recycling was shocking.” Li presented her findings on Tuesday, May 28.

Although Li will be graduating on Saturday, June 8, with the rest of the Class of 2019, her project offers excellent insight into the habits of the boarding community and provides helpful information on how pro-social messaging can increase recycling in the dorms for years to come.