I don't drink a lot of coffee, but I visit a lot of Starbucks coffee shops. It's a great "third place" to meet colleagues especially now that they have free WiFi.
In recent months, I have noticed their new compost and recycle bins. This two-part design is very hip (see photo) but as you can see, it doesn't work. Every time I peer into one of these bins, the contents of the recycle side match the contents of the compost side.
Not all disposable items at Starbucks are both recyclable and compostable. In fact, each color-coded side of the bin includes a list of acceptable items in a fun script font. Does this mean that Starbucks customers cannot read?
For a food service chain whose design was based on the favorite haunts of European writers and artists, I hardly think this is the case. Instead we have what Stanford Psychologist Lee Ross calls a Fundamental Attribute Error. The problem with the people isn't about the attributes of the people (i.e. illiteracy) but rather the situation.
In this situation, a patron has completed her tall soy mocha (no whip) and would like to dispose of her cup and lid. But are both pieces recyclable? Are either compostable?
In a few milliseconds, the customer is going to decide on the next course of action. If she has the time and inclination, she will stop and read the instructions. Most likely though, she's in a hurry or distracted by processing the conversation she just left. The reading of instructions distracts her flow. Instead of interrupting her thoughts, she clicks the cup with lid attached into one of the bins so she can hop the bus to her next appointment.
Does this make her a bad person? Indeed not. So how could Starbucks avoid the purchase of pricey bifurcate bins that their staff has to sort through at the end of the day?
I suggest pictures. Studies show that pictures of appropriate items bridge the fuzziness between user friendly and idiot proof. Instead of engaging left brain processes to shift gears and read text, pictures of acceptable items posted above each receptacle would allow the consumer to instantly id the appropriate place for her refuse. Or, since each is color-coded, Starbucks could add a dot or star or other color matching tag printed on each item. That way, the eye only has to match the colors to make an instant connection.
The problem with people is that they are busy. Like Starbucks, you can make little changes to encourage big behavior changes. And some day, I'll know automatically what to recycle and what to compost when I visit Starbucks.