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The Effectiveness of Models and Prompts on Waste Diversion: A Field Experiment on Composting by Cafeteria Patrons


  • Acknowledgments: Kiyuri Naicker, the volunteers who acted as models, the Victoria Public Interest Research Group (VIPRG), and the University of Victoria Student Society are acknowledged.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Reuven Sussman, Department of Psychology, University of Victoria, 3800 Finnerty Rd, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada V8P 5C2. E-mail:


This study investigated whether or not visual prompts and human models influence compost-supportive behavior by individuals in a cafeteria setting. Waste disposal behavior of cafeteria patrons was observed (N = 1,060) after the introduction of (1) pro-composting signs, and (2) models who demonstrated appropriate composting behavior. Ideal composting significantly increased relative to the baseline with the introduction of the signs (from 12.5% to 20.5%). A further increase (to 42%) was observed when two (but not one) individuals modeled the behavior, and this increase was sustained even after the models were removed. Informational and normative influences may explain the increase in composting. This study further supports the use of prompts and models as a strategy for encouraging pro-environmental behaviors.