How images of turtles and dolphins helped one Vancouver office building reduce plastic waste

Researchers placed signs featuring marine animals above garbage, recycling and compost bins in a Vancouver office building and found plastic waste decreased substantially. (UBC)

Pictures of marine animals helped one office building in Downtown Vancouver reduce plastic waste by 17 per cent, according to researchers.

The pictures were placed above garbage, recycling and compost bins as part of a psychological experiment aimed at reducing plastic waste through behavioural interventions. 

For Phase 1 of the experiment, researchers placed different signs on eight floors of a high-rise office building. All of the signs contained information on which items belong in which bins, but some also featured images of animals such as sea turtles and dolphins trapped in plastic debris.

According to the study, the signs with images of marine animals led to the largest reduction of plastic waste.

In Phase 2, the team used the animal signs on every floor and found the amount of plastic items in the trash decreased from 72 per cent to 64 per cent over a period of six weeks.

Jiaying Zhao, the study's senior author, told CTV News the experiment demonstrates the effectiveness of visualizing the impact of plastic waste on the aquatic ecosystem.

"People don't know the downstream consequences of actions. So every time I throw away a plastic straw, I don't know where it goes. I don't know what the impact it has on the environment," said Zhao.

Zhao hopes more organizations and municipalities will take this approach and start showing these animals on their signage to discourage plastic waste.