A physical environment change nudge: Uppsala Bottle Bins

People in Sweden are quite responsible in general, with 93% of Swedish respondents in a Eurobarometer poll stating that recycling of waste is pivotal for the environment. Although convinced of this, only 69% of Swedes claim to regularly recycle their trash. Now this is a half-full/half-empty glass issue, and I am not saying that 69% is too little. In fact, I am proud of Swedes that they score so high in this. The European average is only 59%, and only a few countries top Sweden in recycling: Luxembourg (83%), France (82%), Belgium (78%), the UK (74%), Austria (71%) and Ireland (70%). But nevertheless, 69% means that at least 31% of us can do more! That is a happy message, if you ask me, there is room for improvement. All we really need to do, is improve!

Coming back to the topic of this post: Uppsala’s Bottle Bins. Uppsala saw a brilliant opportunity in adding some bottle-collecting cylinders to their normal trash bins; it provides poor people with an excellent way to collect waste and thus both earn money and help society keep clean at the same time. As you can see on the photo below, pedestrians can dispose their pant bottles (and pant is high in Sweden, about 1 kr per small container, or 10 Euro-cents). People who can use some extra money can simply take out the bottles if they see them in there, without the need to dig through a deep trash bin (and sometimes leaving a messy sight).


Source: http://www.citylab.com/politics/2013/02/pocket-history-bottle-recycling/4831/ Original caption: “Empty beverage container collector, Uppsala 2012 (Finn Arne Jørgensen)”

This is a nudge that changes something in the physical environment of the person who engages in behaviour. In fact, it does so on two occasions. Firstly it suggests people that it is better to drop their flasks and bottles in the recycle cilinder, rather than tossing them in the common trash bin. Secondly, it allows people who are looking for these bottles as a way of income to collect them without having to go head-first into dirty trash bins!

If you want to check out these bins, by the way, they are still around at the Uppsala train station. If you’re around, go ahead and donate a bottle or two.


  1. artjok · November 7, 2014

    Hej Linda. At first, I thought they were a great solution! Then I realized that not that always one can see bottles/cans inside. Do you know if they’ve made any assessment of how it’s been working so far?
    Regarding number on recycling, this summer went to Eskilstuna (one of the leading municipalities in Sweden when it comes to environmental work). Was surprised to hear from the recycling center that around 60% of incoming waste is thrown away as burnable, and only tiny fractions of plastic, is recycled…So in Sweden great potential for this work! It is commonly perceived by many that burning equals recycling.


    • Britt · November 7, 2014

      Hej Artjok. Happy to read you thought this was an interesting approach. I have no idea if the municipality actually did a study on this, I am afraid not. Nothing that is published, in any case, but if anyone can correct me, I’d be happy, because such things have great potential, IF they are implemented correctly. You’re right to criticize the ‘nudge’ if it is not effective, for instance because as you said, people cannot see if bottles are inside. From my viewpoint, it looked as if this was visible, but this is of course quite important.

      Yes, indeed there is some potential for improved recycling, particularly in public spheres. Swedes (Europeans in general) are already pretty active when it comes to recycling in homes, but not on the streets. Mostly because there is no way to do it, but also because no one else is doing it. So why would we?

      And technically, burning waste is recycling. This is what is (very cleverly) called ‘energy recycling’, which basically means the heat from the burning is re-used. As you probably guess, not the most efficient way of ‘recycling’, besides it does nothing about saving primary resources.


  2. Emma · November 27, 2014

    The bottle bins seem like a good idea. I really admire the progress of Sweden. I wish that everywhere will become like this some day! Thanks for the post!


  3. rubbishwaste ltd. · December 22, 2014

    I love innovative ideas like this! Everything that will help us recycle more is great!


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