Behavior Change Campaign for Strategic Urban Composting

Client Organization: 
Hudson River Park
Project Location : 
New York, NY
Summary of Project Idea: 

Goals & Objectives

14 million tons of waste in NYC every year, ~30% organic waste. Not feasible to having apartment pick up for everyone for a long time, so community drop off will continue to be critical. We seek to fill in the gap of existing community drop-off locations and curbside pick-up, particularly with underserved communities such as public housing.

2030—NYC goal of zero waste

As part of helping NYC achieve this goal, as well as creating significantly important positive impacts on climate change, Hudson River Park has purchased and installed an industrial composter. At the moment, the composter is primarily used for organic material from the park, the office, and a few other select groups. This alone has diverted a significant amount of waste (42,000lbs in 1 year), as well as reduced the need for garbage and organic pick up from the area.

We would like to open this program up more to the community to allow for more community drop-offs, but need a better understanding of how to design effective signage, what are the primary barriers to organics collection in an apartment environment, how to run an effective behavior campaign, how to build programs that empower NYCHA residential support, and how to evaluate the campaign’s effectiveness.

Theoretical Justification, Social Benefit, or Significance

The impact of this research is to reduce the environmental and climate impacts of organic waste. Collecting organic waste is currently a growing field, as nearly all urban areas are realizing that to meet waste reduction goals, they must address collecting and recycling organic materials. However, programs are still very novel and run into a wide variety of issues. This program could serve as a model for other cities to start up successful community drop-off sites, an important piece of the puzzle, particularly as introducing a curbside collection program can require significant coordination and resources.

Specific Activities & Duration

Research methodologies could include:

  • Literature review
  • Observational research
  • Interviews with possible participants and HRP staff
  • Surveys with possible participants and HRP staff

Integrative Approach

This program integrates the skills of:

  • Program Management/Design
  • Social science research design
  • Environmental psychology
  • Environmental Justice

Overall, it reflects a real world need of non-profits, governments, and private groups to design effective behavior change programs that incorporate best practices of research and evaluation. There is also a need to incorporate environmental justice into these programs.

SEAS Program Areas: 
Behavior, Education, and Communication
Environmental Justice
Sustainable Systems
Role for each program area: 

Behavior, Education, and CommunicationThese students can utilize their skills in behavioral science and research design to help promote a better understanding of how to motivate composting behavior and design a more effective program. This would include anything from designing surveys or interview questions to designing communication materials and an effective outreach strategy.

Environmental Justice: These students would employ their skills in community based social research to represent and respond to community (e.g. park users, local NYCHA housing, local students and families)  interests, needs, and barriers to access.  It would also potentially require facilitation with leaders in public housing and thoughtful programming that builds a more comprehensive partnership with the Park and local NYCHA housing.

Sustainable Systems: These students would be using their skills in addressing complex problems such as waste management in an urban environment like New York City. Moreover, they would get to employ expertise in addressing sustainability needs in an urban park by looking at organics and the larger waste stream (e.g., how is this material dealt with from purchase to disposal, how to minimize the park’s carbon footprint by decreasing the waste stream).

Professional Career Development Benefits: 
  • Research design and implementation
  • Communication design
  • Project management
  • Evaluation design and implementation
  • Expertise in organic waste management
  • Contacts in NYC non-profits and governmental groups
  • Opportunity to present work at a wide number of conferences
  • Potential for publishable research
Funding Sources: 

Non-profit group. Program is funded but it is unlikely we will have additional funds for students.

Identify expected products/deliverables: 


Report that includes

    • Literature review
    • Research methodology
    • Research findings
    • Recommendations

Preliminary work on:

    • Communication materials (signage, flyers)
    • Campaign design
    • Programming strategy & materials


  • We would use the research in further designing and implementing our compost campaign.
    • Inform signage, programming, waste management decisions, and overall compost expansion.
  • We would like to publish or share this research broadly through conferences and partner organizations.
Contact full name: 
Carrie Roble
Job title: 
Director of Environmental Education and Stewardship
New York
State or Country: 
New York
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Michaela Zint
Contact Phone: 
Contact e-mail: 
Contact information: 
SNRE alum
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Alexander Ho
  • Anita Lin
  • Yili Luo
Project Status: 
Past Project