Identifying Effective Communication to Promote Composting

Executive Summary:

This behavior change project focuses on student composting.  The main objective of this project is to identify perceived motivations and barriers the campus community has to composting, and determine what communication methods on signs are most effective in fostering behavior change.  The results of this project will be valuable to Housing and Food Services (HFS), Building Services, and student and staff led groups such as SEED and Green Teams that spend significant resources on campus signage, without studying the effectiveness of their communication methods. In the long-term, this project will contribute to increased composting on campus, which will reduce carbon emissions and waste.

Student Involvement:

This project is student led.  The project team will consist of three students – two graduate and one undergraduate.  This project will gain input from campus organizations that are currently interested in promoting the use of composting.  These organizations include: ESS, Facilities, and SEED.  The greatest strength of using a community-based social marketing approach with behavior change is the emphasis on understanding the target audience of the resulting communication method.  The target audience for this project is people who use the dorm cafeterias – mostly students who live in the dorms.  Our focus groups and survey will rely on information from this target audience and will ensure that student interests and perceptions shape communication interventions.  We also hope to engage a wide variety of students in assisting in monitoring efforts.  Weighing compost totes will require volunteers to weigh totes every week.  We have attended SEED meetings and plan to collaborate with SEED to coordinate student volunteers to participate in this role.

Education & Outreach:

We will be conducting outreach in student cafeterias to recruit participation in focus group interviews and wider campus surveys.  We will also be working with student led groups, visiting classes as guest speakers and seeking other opportunities to publicize research such as the 2011 Campus Sustainability Summit.  

The main outreach goals of our program are getting organizations that work with composting interested in the findings of our project.  It is imperative that the work we do provides information for future communication work around composting on campus.  We want to inform entities across campus about how to promote composting behavior with students.  To do so we are working with these entities and will submit a full report of our results and recommendations when this project ends.  

Environmental Impact:
  • Waste
Project Longevity:

Environmental Problem:

The University's Climate Action Plan identifies the importance of waste reduction as a means to reducing greenhouse gases.  One area of interest cited is increasing food composting on campus.  In recent years, the availability of composting bins has increased on campus; yet, if you look inside a bin it is obvious that there is confusion about composting.  Many items that are not compostable end up in the compost bin and many compostable items end up in the garbage.  When composting bins are not used correctly they often become too contaminated to decompose, and must be taken to the landfill.  Addressing the correct use of composting bins is important because it will reduce waste by limiting landfill, contributing to the recycling of nutrients and the reduction of greenhouse gases through a more efficient waste management system. 

Determining which communication techniques are most effective in fostering sustainable behavior change will be a useful tool for groups already promoting composting on campus such as SEED, Green Teams, Housing and Food Services (HFS), and Building Services.  Groups such as SEED have already done a lot of work creating signs for composting, but these signs are not tested for effectiveness and are not based on proven strategies to internalize behavior change.  This project will provide groups with information to ensure that their messaging and sign products can be effective.  Information about motivations and barriers to composting on campus can also help identify further projects and initiatives these groups may want to implement and effective communication techniques for promoting composting behavior can also be applied to other areas of sustainable behavior change. 

Explain how the impacts will be measured:

The goal of this project is to increase the amount of uncontaminated compost on campus.  Several quantifiable measures will be used to determine how much compost is sent to composting facilities.  The first is the number of compost totes that are taken to the Cedar Grove compost facility from dorm cafeterias.  HFS receives an invoice each month with the number of totes taken to the facility, and will provide our research team with this information.  Since there is a concern that totes may not be completely full when they are taken off site, we will also weigh totes.  As part of our proposal we are asking for money to purchase weigh scales that can be used to weigh compost totes (one for 1101 and one for The Eight).  We are working with the student led group SEED to set up monitoring parties where we will systematically measure the weight of compost totes before and after our project is implemented.  The last quantifiable measure we are interested in tracking is the observed amount of contamination in compost totes.  Using a Likert Scale measuring from no contamination to complete contamination, we hope to assess if there are improvements in lowering compost contamination.

For these three quantifiable measures, we will measure success on whether: the number of compost totes taken by Cedar Grove increases, the weight of compost increases, and if contamination decreases.  We intend to report this information to campus groups that are involved in composting which include: HFS, Facilities, Building Services, and SEED

Currently, there are no requirements or mandates by the UW, City, or State law.  The City of Seattle has set forth Food Service Packaging Requirements, which has some inference that appropriate containers for the collection of recyclable and compostable materials and food packaging are provided within food service areas for appropriate collection of materials.  We are going above and beyond the mandate that composting facilities are provided, and aim to improve proper usage of the required composting containers. 

Total amount requested from the CSF: $11,558
This funding request is a: Grant
If this is a loan, what is the estimated payback period?:


ItemCost per ItemQuantityTotal Cost
Equipment & Construction
Scales (to weight compost totes) $119.00 2$238.00
Printing Costs of Signs and ResearchN/AN/A$200.00
Publicity and Communication
Personnel & Wages
Project Manager(s) $4,000.002$8,000.00
Undergraduate Assistant$3,000.001$3,000.00
General Supplies & Other
Focus Groups$30/group4$120.00
CSF Total$ 11,558.00

Non-CSF Sources:

Project Completion Total: $11,558


TaskTimeframeEstimated Completion Date
Project Start DateFebruary 1, 2011
Date by which need first installment of CSF grantFebruary 7, 2011
Focus Groups1 month March 15, 2011
Survey 1 monthApril 15, 2011
Install communication interventions1-2 daysApril 30, 2011
Project completionJune 15, 2011
Expect to spend all fundsJune 15, 2011
Submit final project report to CSF officeJune 30, 2011

Project Approval Forms: