LSU Graduate Student Mimi Rivette Studies Recycling Behaviors on Campus

Keep Louisiana Beautiful (KLB) recently got the chance to interview Mimi Rivette, a graduate student and research assistant for the Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness at Louisiana State University, about her final defense project, “Using Trail Cameras to Monitor Recycling Behavior in an Informational Nudge Experiment.”


This collaborative project with assistant professor Dr. Jerrod Penn measured the effects of intervention signage on recycling contamination. Rivette studied contamination rates of bins on campus prior to signage installation and after. One sign offered a general message, “Don’t Trash It. Geaux Recycle.”


“This sign promoted what we call wishcycling,” said Rivette. “People want to do the right thing by recycling, but they end up disposing of items that are not recyclable. Data found that this sign had no significant effect on contamination levels in the recycling bins.”


The other sign installed included more detail on what not to recycle: food wrappers, masks, plastic bags, and styrofoam. The sign also read, “If in doubt, throw it out.” This more informative sign resulted in a 13-14 percent decrease in contamination levels in the recycling bins.


Another layer to Rivette’s project was the use of cameras to capture footage of disposed items in recycling bins. Information was collected on the frequency of disposal and types of items discarded. The bags of recycling were then hand-sorted and the hand-count data was recorded for comparison to the data from the camera footage.



“While there were fewer items recorded by the cameras, the data trends were very similar,” said Rivette. “The largest discrepancy in item composition between the bags and cameras was for paper items and small items.”


Being that the camera and bag data sets were so comparable, Rivette believes the use of cameras in future research would be beneficial. Not only do the cameras save time, but they also allow researchers to avoid encountering the health and safety hazards that come with hand-sorting.


“No studies that we found have used cameras for capturing recycling data,” explained Rivette. “Most use hand-counts and bag weights, which are either very tedious or can misrepresent contamination levels.”


“We are excited to see students investigating ways to reduce contamination in recycling,” said Susan Russell, Executive Director of KLB. “People do care about the planet and want to help, but they often need a nudge in the right direction. If we can become more knowledgeable about how and what to recycle, then we will see less waste in our landfills.”


LSU is a KLB University Affiliate and a member of the University Sustainability Coalition. The Coalition was established in 2021, with Dr. Jerrod Penn, Assistant Professor with the Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness at Louisiana State University, as chair and KLB as the lead facilitator.