Recent research has indicated high economic and environmental costs of human paper usage. Technologies have been developed to reduce consumers’ paper use behavior, including mechanical dispensers that institute a delay between opportunities to obtain each consecutive unit. However, there is no empirical evidence that these dispensers or delays reduce paper use. In Experiment 1, implementing a delay between paper-unit deliveries using mechanical dispensers in a university café resulted in a significant decrease in units per person, material per person, and cost per person, compared to free-access dispensers. In Experiment 2, a relatively long delay was more effective than a short delay in reducing paper consumption in a laboratory experiment using mechanical dispensers. These results indicate that delays could be used to decrease paper use in many contexts on a larger scale. More research is necessary to determine the underlying behavioral mechanisms responsible for the observed reduction and the cost–benefit relationship under different circumstances.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Baum, W. M. (2005). Understanding behaviorism: Behavior, culture, and evolution (2nd ed.). Malden: Blackwell.
Biglan, A. (1995). Changing cultural practices: A contextualist framework for intervention research. Reno: Context Press.
Boons, F., Montalvo, C., Quist, J., & Wagner, M. (2013). Sustainable innovation, business models and economic performance: An overview. Journal of Cleaner Production, 45, 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2012.08.013.
Campbell-Arvai, V., Arvai, J., & Kalof, L. (2014). Motivating sustainable food choices: The role of nudges, value orientation, and information provision. Environment & Behavior, 46, 453–475. https://doi.org/10.1177/0013916512469099.
Derijcke, E., & Uitzinger, J. (2006). Residential behavior in sustainable houses. In P. P. Verbeek & A. Slob (Eds.), User behavior and technology development: Shaping sustainable relations between consumers and technologies (pp. 119–126). Dordrecht: Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-5196-8_12.
Egebark, J., & Ekstrom, M. (2016). Can indifference make the world greener? Journal of Environmental Economics & Management, 76, 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jeem.2015.11.004.
Ferster, C. B. (1953). Sustained behavior under delayed reinforcement. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 45, 218–224. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0062158.
Ferster, C. B., & Hammer, C. (1965). Variables determining the effects of delay of reinforcement. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 8, 243–254. https://doi.org/10.1901/jeab.1965.8-243.
Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAOUN). (2016). Global forest products facts and figures. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/3/I7034EN/i7034en.pdf. Accessed 20 October 2018
Fox, A. E., Bailey, S. R., Hall, E. G., & St. Peter, C. C. (2012). Differential reinforcement of other behavior to reduce biting and chewing of horses. Behavioural Processes, 91, 125–128. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.beproc.2012.05.001.
Fox, A. E., & Belding, D. L. (2015). Reducing pawing in horses using positive reinforcement. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 48, 936–940. https://doi.org/10.1002/jaba.241.
Geller, E. S., Witmer, J. F., & Orebaugh, A. L. (1976). Instructions as a determinant of paper-disposal behaviors. Environment and Behavior, 8, 417–439. https://doi.org/10.1177/136327527600800305.
Georgia Pacific Consumer Products. (2018). GP PRO enMotion 10” automated touchless paper towel dispenser (Fact sheet). Retrieved from https://catalog.gppro.com/catalog/pdfversion. Accessed 20 October 2018
Green, L., & Myerson, J. (2004). A discounting framework for choice with delayed and probabilistic rewards. Psychological Bulletin, 130, 769–792. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.130.5.769.
Hager, C., & Haddad, M. A. (Eds.). (2015). Nimby is beautiful: Cases of local activism and environmental innovation around the world. New York: Berghahn Books.
Hahn, S. (2015). UCLA installs new dispensers to reduce paper towel waste. Daily Bruin. Retrieved from https://dailybruin.com/2015/02/23/ucla-installs-new-dispensers-to-reduce-paper-towel-waste/. Accessed 20 October 2018
Huitema, B. E., & McKean, J. W. (2000). Design specification issues in time-series intervention models. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 60, 38–58.
Humphrey, C. R., Bord, R. J., Hammond, M. M., & Mann, S. H. (1977). Attitudes and conditions for cooperation in a paper recycling program. Environment & Behavior, 8, 107–124. https://doi.org/10.1177/001391657791007.
Lattal, K. A. (2010). Delayed reinforcement of operant behavior. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 93, 129–139. https://doi.org/10.1901/jeab.2010.93-129.
Lattal, K. A., & Ziegler, D. R. (1982). Briefly delayed reinforcement: An interresponse time analysis. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 37, 407–416. https://doi.org/10.1901/jeab.1982.37-407.
Lockton, D., Harrison, D., & Stanton, N. A. (2015). Exploring design patterns for sustainable behavior. Design Journal, 16, 431–459. https://doi.org/10.2752/175630613X13746645186124.
Madsen, N. E., Gustafsson, N., Tetreault, J. E., & Schulze, L. (2016). U.S. Patent No. US D767,297 S. Washington, DC: U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.
Michie, S., van Stralen, M. M., & West, R. (2011). The behavior change wheel: A new method for characterizing and designing behavior change interventions. Implementation Science, 6, 42. https://doi.org/10.1186/1748-5908-6-42.
Milkman, K. L., Rogers, T., & Bazerman, M. H. (2008). Harnessing our inner angels and demons. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 324–338. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-6924.2008.00083.x.
Montazeri, S., Finkbiner, D., Papalambros, P. Y., & Gonzalez, R. (2013). Save a napkin save a tree: The role of metaphors in product design to change behavior. Proceedings of the 19th International Conference of Engineering Design (ICED19). Design for Harmonies, Korea, 7, 357–366.
Odum, A. L., Ward, R. D., Barnes, C. A., & Burke, K. A. (2006). The effects of delayed reinforcement on variability and repetition of response sequences. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 86, 159–179. https://doi.org/10.1901/jeab.2006.58-05.
Petscher, E. S., Rey, C., & Bailey, J. S. (2009). A review of empirical support for differential reinforcement of alternative behavior. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 30, 409–425. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ridd.2008.08.008.
Ratner, R. K., Soman, D., Zauberman, G., Ariely, D., Carmon, Z, Keller, P. A., . . . Wertenbrock, K. (2008). How behavioral decision research can enhance consumer welfare: From freedom of choice to paternalistic intervention. Marketing Letters, 19, 383–397. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s11002-008-9044-3
Rodriguez, M. L., & Logue, A. W. (1988). Adjusting delay to reinforcement: Comparing choice in pigeons and humans. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 14, 105–117. https://doi.org/10.1037/0097-7403.14.1.105.
Schaal, D. W., & Branch, M. N. (1988). Responding of pigeons under variable-interval schedule of unsignaled, briefly signaled, and completely signaled delays to reinforcement. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 50, 33–54. https://doi.org/10.1901/jeab.1988.50-33.
Schaal, D. W., & Branch, M. N. (1990). Responding of pigeons under variable-interval schedules of signaled-delayed reinforcement: Effect of delay-signal duration. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 53, 103–121. https://doi.org/10.1901/jeab.1990.53-103.
Semenza, J. C., Hall, D. E., Wilson, D. J., Bontempo, B. D., Sailor, D. J., & George, L. A. (2008). Public perception of climate change: Voluntary mitigation and barriers to behavior change. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 35, 479–487. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2008.08.020.
Sizemore, O. J., & Lattal, K. A. (1977). Dependency, temporal contiguity, and response-independent reinforcement. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 27, 119–125. https://doi.org/10.1901/jeab.1977.27-119.
Sizemore, O. J., & Lattal, K. A. (1978). Unsignalled delay of reinforcement in variable-interval schedules. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 30, 169–175. https://doi.org/10.1901/jeab.1978.30-169.
Skinner, B. F. (1953). Science and human behavior. New York: Free Press.
Skinner, B. F. (1971). Beyond freedom and dignity. New York: Knopf.
Sunstein, C. R. (2017). Nudges that fail. Behavioural Public Policy, 1, 4–25. https://doi.org/10.1017/bpp.2016.3.
Thaler, R. H., & Sunstein, C. R. (2008). Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. New Haven: Yale University Press.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (2018). Advancing sustainable materials management: 2015 fact sheet. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2018-07/documents/2015_smm_msw_factsheet_07242018_fnl_508_002.pdf. Accessed 20 October 2018
Van Houten, R., Louis Malenfant, J. E., Austin, J., & Lebbon, A. (2005). The effects of a seatbelt-gearshift delay prompt on the seatbelt use of motorists who do not regularly wear seatbelts. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 38, 195–203. https://doi.org/10.1901/jaba.2005.48-04.
Vlek, C., & Steg, L. (2007). Human behavior and environmental sustainability: Problems, driving forces, and research topics. Journal of Social Issues, 63, 1–19. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-4560.2007.00493.x.
On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest. All procedures involving human subjects were approved by the Institutional Review Board at St. Lawrence University. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants in Experiment 2, but informed consent was not required in Experiment 1.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Fox, A.E., Buchanan, I., Roussard, Q. et al. Using Delays to Decrease Paper Consumption in Food Service and Laboratory Settings. Psychol Rec 69, 215–223 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40732-019-00335-8
- Reinforcement delays
- Paper dispensers
- Climate change
- Behavioral nudges