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What Makes Our Students Recycle?

What drives behavior? It is a big question, but important to understand if we are to be successful in building a sustainable campus. 

To better understand HKUST students’ ideas about recycling, a group of MBA and Net Impact group students conducted a study during the spring semester for a market research course. The students first conducted focus groups to get the thoughts and feelings of a small core of HKUST students, and then followed up with an online survey. The online survey was completed by over 660 respondents, mainly Hong Kong educated UG Year 1 and 2 students. The study group looking into four attributes of likelihood of recycling: awareness, convenience, motivation and incentive. Some of the results of the study were surprising:

  • Over 90% of students came to HKUST with previous knowledge of recycling, learned either in primary/secondary schools or through the media. 
  •  However, even with that knowledge, only15% of students are regular recyclers. Half of the students recycle but not regularly. Positively, they say they could become regular recyclers if the bins were more convenient. 
  • The survey tried to assess what motivated students to recycle or not, and found that conveniently located and clearly marked bins are top factors. Also significant is the belief that action can make a positive difference. Peer pressure was also indicated as a motivation, but not as strong.
  • One of the more surprising results came from questions focusing on incentives. Students were asked what would make them more likely to recycle, and the overwhelming answer was convenience (i.e., more recycling bins). In fact, students chose this answer by more than 6-to-1 over getting paid to recycle! 
  • Over 60% of respondents also said they would be more willing to recycle if they knew how recycling is processed or were reminded what to recycle. 
  • Overall, “Belief that recycling makes a difference to the environment” and “Awareness of recycling bins on campus” were the two most important factors for recycling.

The findings provided us great insight to understand students’ recycling behavior. The study demonstrates the great importance of increasing the number of recycling bins and locating them conveniently near sources of waste. The insights into the study will also help our efforts to develop new signs to help with recycling bin visibility, and also to make clear the specific impacts of recycling in Hong Kong. We look forward to using the results to deliver campaign-style messages that are emotive, persuasive and relevant to students. 

Combining these results with the results from the “Cute Animal Recycling Bins” study in LSK and student halls, we are excited to tell you that a whole new designed recycling bin signs will soon be installed on our campus, together with a new guide on recycling. What do you think? Feel free to share your views by emailing us at