Gamification of waste recycling at the Kangas district in Jyväskylä

News 2021-07-21 at 13:02
© Tanja Oksa

An experiment related to a Circwaste subproject was conducted in February in the Kangas district of Jyväskylä, during which participants' waste behaviour was monitored and influenced by means of gamification. Gamification improved the residents’ sorting and motivated them.

The experiment was part of the master’s thesis of the University of Vaasa student Susanna Ailanto. The study aimed to explore households' perception of whether gamification can encourage them to sort their waste better.

The experiment was enabled by smart waste management

Monitoring the waste behaviour was enabled by smart waste management used by the district. Each apartment has their own electronic to access the waste sorting areas of their building.

With the participants’ consent, the data collected from their use was connected with the apartments to allow monitoring the participants’ sorting behaviour.

Valuable information for volume-based waste pricing

The goal of the gamification experiment was to make taking out and sorting waste of different fractions a game that would encourage the best possible sorting of waste. The purpose of the experiment was to test the use of rewards in waste management to provide indications for the use of volume-based waste pricing.

The experiment focused on monitoring mixed waste. The aim of the experiment was to reduce the number of times the mixed waste bins were opened, as this was thought to correlate with the apartments sorting their waste better.

A weekly scoreboard to demonstrate progress to the residents

Prior to the gamification period in February, the number of times the participants' opened their mixed waste bins was monitored during January. In January, the average weekly opening time for each apartment was calculated, meaning the number of times per week each apartments took out mixed waste.

In February, the participants' sorting behaviour was monitored on a weekly basis and their aim was to reduce the number of times they took out mixed waste. The participants' progress was measured by scoring. If the number of weekly times the mixed waste container was opened was lower than during the January benchmark, the apartment received points. For those weeks in February the apartment received no points, and if the number of times increased in comparison with the benchmark, points were deducted.

Participants were able to track their results via a weekly email with their score for that week, a scoreboard with their placing and the total score for the entire experiment, and a pie chart showing how their own waste was distributed across different waste fractions. In addition, a weekly theme was presented at the end of the email. The themes included topics such as how sorted waste can be utilised.

Gamification managed to increase sorting

The experiment involved seven apartments. The family sizes of the apartments varied between one and two persons and the participants’ age ranged from 20 to over 70. All participants already sorted their waste into all waste fractions before the experiment started.

The experiment seemed to be successful, based on the change between January and February. The number of times the mixed waste bin of every apartment decreased. At best, the weekly average fell from four times a week in January to none in February. This player did not open the mixed waste bin once during all of February. On average, each participant reduced the number of times they opened their mixed waste bin every week by two. While the participants opened mixed waste bins 67 times in January, the equivalent number for February was 24.

After the February experiment, the participants were also interviewed about their experiences. The interviews provided a lot of important additional and background information. The interviews revealed that no one had experienced a significant reduction in their mixed waste during the experiment. Some had focused even more on sorting their waste than before, but changes were felt to be small or insignificant.

Different life situations affect the amount of waste

The interviews also highlighted factors outside the experiment that had an impact on the results. In one household, cat litter caused a large part of the times the mixed waste bin was opened. However, as the cat was away for two weeks in February, the number of openings decreased sharply. Another participant stated that they had decided to start recycling plastic packaging in February even before taking part in the experiment. A third one felt that moving in during January had momentarily increased their amount of mixed waste.

Some also changed their sorting behaviour by emptying their mixed waste less frequently in January, as they focused on the number of times of opening the bin during the experiment. One of the participants had completely misunderstood the purpose of the experiment and the way the points were accumulated.

Gamification motivates residents to increase sorting

Nonetheless, all participants believed that gamification could work if properly developed. There were also positive surprises during the experiment. One of the participants in particular was surprised at how motivating it was to take part in the waste experiment and monitor the points. However, as they already sorted very thoroughly, participation in the experiment did not enable them to improve their behaviour. This experience was shared by many participants. Two participants engaged in a discussion on how gamification should aim to have a direct impact on purchasing behaviour in order to reduce mixed waste and waste in general.

The goal of the thesis, of which the experiment was a part, was to examine households' perception of whether gamification can motivate an increase in sorting waste. The answer to this question is yes. All seven participants believed that if properly implemented, gamification could provide motivation.

”The findings of the experiment were as expected,” says Tanja Oksa, Project Manager for the Circwaste subproject from the City of Jyväskylä. “The output of the interviews is valuable and the usefulness of the data we have collected was confirmed by the experiment.”

However, many things must be taken into account in implementing gamification: people are motivated by different things, so the approach to gamification must be versatile without losing clarity; there are always exceptional periods in people's lives, and this should also be taken into account; what exactly is measured and how it impacts the desired behaviour requires careful consideration of the measures used. If misguided, intervention with people’s behaviour can also change matters for the worse.

In the future, gamification could be further developed and more participants attracted. The participants in this experiment were already good sorters, so it is important to find out what the effects of gamification would be on people whose sorting is not yet at a good level.

Text: Susanna Ailanto

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