Connecting state and local government leaders

How San José Reduced Illegal Dumping With Behavioral Insights


Connecting state and local government leaders

A pilot project aimed to find ways to make a free, large-item pickup program more effective.

Big cities are used to illegal dumping—improper solid waste disposal causing health and environmental problems, as well as blight—but San José recently addressed the issue using human behavior to bolster public outreach.

Piloted alongside cameras placed by code enforcement and City Council fine increases, up to $10,000 for repeat offenders, the experiment ran from April through June.

The design was set up by the U.K.-based Behavioural Insights Team, a What Works Cities partner, in conjunction with the data team at San José City Hall.

“It seemed appropriate because we’re doing a huge marketing effort on this issue—a holistic, city-wide effort,” Jennie Loft, the city’s Environmental Services Department public information manager, said in an interview.

So ESD took its program offering free, large-item pickup of up to three items like sofas and mattresses twice a year and A/B tested direct mailing raising public awareness about the initiative.

Two postcards were created and disseminated to different groups of 3,000 California Waste Solutions customers each. Both mailers were developed to elicit an unknown behavioral response and provided in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.

(Environmental Services Department)

A “Do It the Right Way” postcard informed residents that illegal dumping costs San José $87 an incident, while a “You’ve Been Selected” postcard marketed the program as an exclusive offer. A third control group of 3,000 people received no notice other than what was available on social media and bus shelters.

(Environmental Services Department)

The costs postcard increased large-item collections 75 percent compared to the control and the offer postcard 150 percent—meaning the latter was 42 percent more effective.

Used across the board, San José projects the more successful approach would’ve seen 8,281 pickups.

(Environmental Services Department)

“It worked really well because people were feeling they were special and picked up the phone,” Loft said. “We continue to do outreach and marketing for this service, and one of our haulers uses the message. We’ll continue to work with the city’s data group on other outreach opportunities.”

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington D.C.

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