URBANA, Ill. – During every University of Illinois home football game the Marching Illini band entertains the crowd from the stands and performs at halftime. On game day, the band’s 400 musicians plus supporting staff also eat a boxed lunch together. That’s over 400 sandwiches, cookies, and bottles of water. U of I senior Matthew Moy, who has played tenor sax in the Marching Illini for three years, noticed something else about the lunches -- the 400 sandwich wrappers, boxes, and empty water bottles going into the trash. He saw a substantial opportunity to recycle.
Moy and four other students—Matt Aronoff, Herman Chacon, Gabrielle Levato, and Cora Wessman—are all members of Ming Kuo’s NRES 472 on environmental psychology. Although the class is in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, it is a popular class with students from other disciplines. Aronoff and Chacon are NRES students. Moy and Wessman are in Earth, Society and Environmental Sustainability, and Levato is in Environmental Engineering. But they all share a desire for more “green” living. They decided to make game day recycling behavior of the marching band their final class project. Director of Athletic Bands Barry Houser was supportive of the project that would monitor and encourage the MI band members to recycle the paper and plastic leftovers from the game day boxed lunches.
The team of students set parameters of the behavioral study for the five home football game days of the 2017 fall season.
Week one: they distributed a survey asking students about their recycling habits.
Week two: seven plastic bins were provided for plastic water bottles and cardboard boxes near the trash receptacle. One large sign was placed above the bins that read “Recycle Here.” In week two 125 water bottles were recycled and 136 boxes.
Week three: the recycling containers were in place again, this time with smaller signs over each bin to encourage the band members to recycle boxes and water bottles separately. They also received oral instructions from Director Houser. This strategy garnered the most participation, with 137 water bottles recycled and 176 boxes (34.25% and 44% respectively).
“During week four, we hit a real-world road bump,” says Moy. “In order to save time, we set up the recycle bins the night before and they were taken, so we didn’t collect any data from that week.”
Week five: the project was back on track with the recycle bins and prompts in place but participation was down. Only 107 water bottles and 152 boxes were recycled. The group attributes the lower numbers to the unfortunate interruption of the study in week four.
The student team reported that changing the behavior of a large group like the Marching Illini can be difficult to do quickly. Convenient locations of recycle bins and plenty of them so that the wait to crush boxes and place them in the bins could be kept short were important lessons learned.
Moy says if he would do it again, he’d start by giving the band a presentation about the goals of the project. It would also be good to share the statistics with the band to encourage them to push for improvement the following week and feel like they are making a difference.
Kuo says this project is particularly interesting because it involves changing behavior within a specific group that already has a strong sense of community. “I could see the Marching Illini being proud as a group of their commitment to recycle on game day.” She says students in this particular environmental class say that through these class projects, they’ve not only learned about sustainability in organizations, but left a legacy in their time here, “making the U of I just a little bit better than when they first arrived on campus.”
Ming Kuo is the director of the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at U of I. Her research focuses on green space and health. She also teaches NRES 472 on environmental psychology.