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Using Delays to Decrease Paper Consumption in Food Service and Laboratory Settings


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.

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Author information

IB, QR, KH, and IT developed and conducted Experiment 1 as part of an undergraduate, upper-level seminar in Applied Behavior Analysis taught by AEF. AEF, IB, and JMJ developed and conducted Experiment 2 as part of an undergraduate senior research project. AEF wrote the manuscript.

Correspondence to Adam E. Fox.

Ethics declarations

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.

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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).

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  • Reinforcement delays
  • Paper dispensers
  • Sustainability
  • Climate change
  • Behavioral nudges