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Does Composting Have A Good Cascade Effect? One City Finds Out

Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By brown32 |



Imagine if one act of eco-consciousness could spur other behaviors that were good for the planet?

A city in California that decided to make a city-wide push to compost food scraps soon saw progress being made in other conservation areas. The study was led by Nicole Sintov, assistant professor of Ohio State University. And focused on how the act of keeping food waste out of landfills led to residents behaving in more eco-conscious ways.

This study is timely on many fronts. Climate change is now transforming and affecting the amount and quality of the food we produce. Thus, governments and policy makers are being called on to take measures that will promote a more eco-conscious way of being. As a result, actions and movements, such as a trend of women in agriculture, are showing themselves to have many unforeseen benefits to the community.

The “spillover” effect

Nicole Sintov desired to study a concept called “spillover.” It names a behavior that prompts a separate behavior, negative or positive. As a negative example of the spillover effect, one can refer to lifestyle inflation. When a person’s income level rises, and their consumption level and expenses rise as a spillover result.

In more positive examples, exercise is known to have a positive spillover effect. With those who exercise shown to receive secondary benefits, including:

  • Enhancement of one’s mood toward a more positive viewpoint
  • A decrease in stress
  • Further awareness of other health-related behaviors
  • A mindset more geared toward staying fit and healthy

In the study of 284 Costa Mesa residents in California, research showed that those who began to compost also started to conserve energy, too. For example, with more efforts toward energy saving and water conservation in their household use.

Sintov says why she feels this occurred, explaining that most humans want a consistent framework from which to behave. This framework provides us with our self-perception. Residents gained a behavior that helped them identify with those who are eco-conscious. And then it was easier for them to adopt other behaviors that conformed to that identity.

Using “spillover” behavior in an effective manner

Government and policy makers should take note how the spillover effect can spur communities. Often, when new resolutions or movements toward advancement in a certain area get off the ground, the fervor can die out after a time. This might happen for many reasons. Taking on too many initiatives could cause individuals to not fully adopt any one behavior. Or cause them to feel apathy in a certain direction. So instead of focusing on multiple actions, studies like this show the benefit to selecting one appropriate action that can go on to prompt others. Communities and individuals who are trying to make a whole slew of behavior changes in a certain direction could start with just one.

Eco-friendly behaviors that could lead to beneficial secondary behaviors

For those who are looking for eco-friendly behaviors to adopt in 2018, the Costa Mesa study can show you how to focus on your goals for next year. Pick one behavior that appeals to you and that is easy for you to adopt. And then as you begin to see yourself as a person who is eco-conscious, the other behaviors will be easier for you to incorporate.

Here are some accepted ways to reduce your footprint and consume less of the earth’s resources. You can learn a lot more from reading a composting guide. There are a lot of great tips listed there.

  • Start composting food waste.
  • Follow your city’s recycle guidelines.
  • Make a conscious effort to walk to the supermarket. The secondary benefit of this one is that it not only helps the environment, but it also provides you with clear health benefits.
  • Bring your own grocery bag to the store and shun the plastic bags.
  • Turn off your HVAC when leaving the house in the morning.
  • Use a thermostat to keep your house at an even temperature.
  • Do loads of laundry once a week, when you know you will have a full load.
  • Buy from local sellers. Aim to get your food and the products you use from those as close to you as possible. The more you shorten the distance between where your food came from and your kitchen table, the less energy it took for that product to get to you.

Can one small change in behavior lead to other changes for the better? Choose from any of these and then keep an eye out for the secondary behaviors that crop up as a result.