Recycling, (yet again), Belgian style.

One thing I noticed about my own neighbourhood’s recycling efforts is how difficult it can be for people (including myself) to perform the right behaviour. It is all about facilitation, and having to walk around a large shed building, bring an extra key to open a door that doesn’t want to budge, in order to find out that all the containers are full, and ending up having to carry your stuff back home, so as to try again next day… That is not facilitation.

I do not intend to rave and rant about how not to do it, though. Here is a simple example from a public place (Brussels Airport) that shows how simple it can be made.


Late January I find myself strolling through Brussels International Airport. I hate flying so I am always considerably cranky on airports. However, the first thing I notice while trying to locate the quite well-hidden train station, is this rather poetical message on the wall. It isn’t exactly Shakespeare-worthy, but it is catchy and if made me smile.

That’s an important feature, it made me smile. If something induces positive emotions in people, there is a large chance they attribute the emotion to their behaviour. From this, they infer that (if they do recycle) they do so in order to make themselves happy, and from there comes the logical conclusion that they must be environmentally aware.

Mind, I ‘say’ logical conclusion, but that does not mean that many people will actively think about this in the way described above. Emotions are often subconscious influencers to our behaviour, rather than that we really notice them for what they are.

Anyway, my gaze drops and I see a threesome bins, cheerfully inviting me to play the game I used to play when I was a kid: blocks in the square hole, circles in the round one. This time it is bottles, paper, and unshapely objects that need to be put in the right hole.


If you’re illiterate, you have no reason to fail: there are icons on the rim explaining exactly what to throw in where. If you’re blind, even then can you sense your way out of the dilemma (although considerably less easy, I grant). Even people who cannot decipher the text, nor images, can still do it, since it is quite obvious that paper goes in the left, bottles in the middle, and the rest can go in the right.

Nothing new on the horizon. 

I have seen similar bins all over Europe, they are basically popping up everywhere. It is encouraging to see, as these bins make it so much easier to separate trash. Me as a trash-producing consumer, I have to spend not even one extra second on doing what is environmentally correct! It may even be more appealing, since trash is separated into three bins, reducing the chance that the bin is overflowing with waste and spilling it on the floor.

Funnily enough, not all initiatives are as smart as this one. There was a recent photo upload on Twitter (link here) that shows the waste-categories on the bottom of the bin. This may not have been the best location for this nudge…