Every year, an average Dutch household produces 1165 kilogram of waste. For high-quality recycling of this waste, we need to separate the waste properly, as placing something in the wrong container may jeopardize the whole recycling process. Municipalities are keen to increase the amount of waste that is separated as well as to reduce the contamination of the separated fractions. This requires a change in the habitual behavior of residents which is especially challenging in high-rise buildings where residents have to go downstairs for communal containers.

A lot of research has already been done on behavioral factors around waste separation, mostly focusing on so-called nudges that rather silently redirect behavior without changing the underlying motivation. However, because underlying values and motivation do not change, the behavioral changes are not structurally embedded. In the BASSTA research project, we therefore aim to develop and test interventions that take people briefly out of their unconscious waste separation behavior and make them think consciously about what they are doing. This type of intervention is sometimes called a rational override. But first, we need to understand people's current behavior, the opportunities for waste separation they have in and around their homes, and their motivations for separating waste or not. This should lead to touch points to create interventions on automatic behavior so that a sustainable change in this behavior can take place.

For this research, close collaboration takes place between two types of researchers: design researchers and behavioral psychologists. These researchers, in turn, work with residents and professionals from the municipality that are responsible for the development and implementation of waste policy. The collaboration between design researchers and behavioral psychologists led to the development of a do-book as a research instrument, to gain a clear view on the true waste journey in households. 70 residents started working with this 'dirt diary' and carried out various assignments over several weeks around different types of waste, for example plastics, organic waste, paper, and textile. For instance, they visualized waste solutions in their kitchen, photographed waste generated when preparing a meal, and described how they disposed of the waste in the kitchen and in communal containers. The do-books completed by the residents were analyzed by the researchers. For each waste type, the behavior exhibited, the underlying reasons for that behavior, and what else the researchers noticed were examined.

The insights this provided in the true waste journey, showed at which points in the process interventions can be made to change behavior. In co-creation with professionals and residents, possible interventions in the public space and in homes were developed that may 'disrupt' automatic behavior and make residents reflect on their behavior and, as a result, separate waste better. Two interventions were selected and field tested in various municipalities throughout The Netherlands: a starter package for residents to make waste separation easier, and a communication campaign at communal containers and in the halls of apartment buildings.

Through the close collaboration with professionals and residents for designing and field testing the interventions, the proposed solutions fit well with its users and the context in which they take place. It leads to concrete action perspectives for professionals at municipalities with which they can encourage sustainable behavior from residents. Ultimately, this contributes to more and better recycling of waste and thus the transition to a circular economy.