Face of Climate Change: A napkin dispenser?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Face of Climate Change
Ecofriendly napkin dispenser

The eco-friendly dispenser. Photo courtesy of the researcher.

NAPKINS? Yes, I’m inviting readers to stretch the possibilities in this year’s “Face of Climate Change” challenge. Yesterday, I proposed a green recycling bin as a face of climate change. The color of a bin can dramatically increase recycling. Today, I propose the face of another inanimate object: the humble paper napkin dispenser.

Can the design of a napkin dispenser change human behavior?

Each year, the typical American consumes an average of 2,200 two-ply paper napkins, according to The Green Book: The Everyday Guide to Saving the Planet One Simple Step at a Time. That’s about six per day. If each of us used one less napkin per day, The Green Book says that a billion pounds of napkins wouldn’t end up in landfills each year. For a visual image, that’s enough to fill the Empire State Building.

Changing the design of a dispenser can have a huge positive impact, according to the work of Dr. Soodeh Montazeri, a graduate of the Design Science Doctoral Program at the University of Michigan. She designed the study we discussed yesterday, and the one we’re talking about today.

Eco Christmas theme napkin holder

A Christmas variation that wasn’t as effective. Photo courtesy of the researcher.

A café in Ann Arbor agreed to participate in the study. Each day, they tossed out piles of wasted unused napkins. To encourage what Dr. Montazeri calls “the mindful consumption of napkins,” she replaced the café’s standard dispenser with the one shown above today. The image on it is a spruce tree, a coniferous evergreen that grows about 2 to 3 feet a year in good conditions. The image has markings showing how long it takes for a tree to grow to certain heights. And, the center of the image is a slot that shows the level of napkins in the dispenser.

The spruce-tree and standard dispensers were swapped during a six week period. Thousands of customers used them. On the days when the spruce-tree dispenser was used, consumption of napkins fell sharply. When the standard dispenser was reintroduced, consumption went back up. Consumption fell again when the spruce-tree dispenser was put back.

Because the spruce-tree dispenser has a holiday look to it, they tried a variation that looked like a Christmas tree. The consumption of napkins went back up.

What do you think of the experiment?

Have you seen designs that compelled you to conserve?

What’s another face of climate change?

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