Research news! Introduction of sticker reduces paper waste in Amsterdam

Recent research, conducted as part of the REACHOUT project and published in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Policy by the Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM) at VU Amsterdam, demonstrates the effectiveness of behavioral interventions in reducing paper waste. The study, led by Thijs Endendijk and Wouter Botzen demonstrates that replacing the “NO/NO” sticker by the “YES/YES” sticker for unaddressed mail leads to a 5-10% reduction in the total volume of paper waste in the city. Moreover, this reduction in paper waste is accompanied by cost savings.

In 2018, the city of Amsterdam replaced the sticker explicitly refusing unaddressed mail with the sticker requiring explicit consent for such materials. This change ensures that unsolicited mail is only delivered to mailboxes when recipients have granted explicit permission. Prior to the introduction of the “YES/YES” sticker, 55% of Amsterdam residents made no choice regarding unaddressed mail, a percentage that dropped to 15% after the sticker’s implementation. This means that 40% of all households in Amsterdam no longer receive advertising materials under the new system of explicit consent. Most municipalities in the Netherlands use a sticker for explicit refusal of unaddressed advertising materials and local newspapers. In the absence of such a sticker, these materials typically end up in mailboxes. The new explicit consent sticker prevents households without stickers from receiving unwanted mail that would otherwise end up in the thrash.

Figure 1. Trend of paper waste (kg/pp) in Amsterdam compared to the average of eight other large municipalities in the Netherlands. The new sticker has been implemented in 2018, after paper waste decreased in Amsterdam and remained lower.

Reduction in Municipal Costs

The reduction in paper waste also translates into reduced costs associated with collecting, transporting, and recycling paper waste for municipalities. The study indicates that this cost amounts to between €135,000 and €285,000 annually in Amsterdam. If the entire Netherlands were to adopt the new sticker, this could potentially lead to an annual cost reduction of €14 million to €30 million. “These savings offer municipalities additional funds that can be allocated to other areas or potentially lead to a reduction in municipal taxes,” explains lead researcher Thijs Endendijk.

A small adjustment to mailbox stickers results in a significant reduction in paper waste. According to VU Amsterdam professor Wouter Botzen, “The implementation costs of the explicit consent sticker are low, while the benefits are substantial. This presents a unique opportunity for municipalities to reduce their environmental impact and save money simultaneously.”


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