Research

My research is broadly focused on understanding how policy and communications tools can be leveraged to create more environmentally, socially, and economically desirable outcomes - the triple bottom line (TBL). This has led me to work on two distinct research tracks: (1) municipal solid waste (MSW) and (2) citizen science.

Recycling
The MSW research deals with the disposal side of our consumer economy. Specifically, I analyze complex “waste” management systems in order to quantify and optimize their TBL. In Starr and Nicolson 2015, we conducted the longest and most comprehensive analysis of factors influencing recycling rates within a state. Using Commonwealth of Massachusetts MSW data for 2000-2012, we investigated how various waste management policies, program designs, and socioeconomic factors influence recycling rates over time. This study provides practical guidance to municipal officials and policymakers looking to increase recycling rates. Please feel free to explore our database using this cool Google data visualization tool:

Massachusetts Recycling 2000-2008


Massachusetts Recycling 2009-2012



More recently, I’ve been working with undergraduates, staff, and faculty to model the UMass Amherst waste system. By modeling MSW tonnage, cost, and CO2 impacts of different scenarios we’re creating a more comprehensive decision making framework. We expect to publish our results and share our model later this year.

Citizen Science
The citizen science work is focused on leveraging technology to expand the possible scope and scale of citizen science projects. Specifically, we created the Outsmart Invasive Species smartphone application. At the touch of a button, app users can submit high quality GPS-tagged images of any suspected invasive species. In addition to creating a useful app, our research contribution to citizen science was testing the effectiveness of app-embedded video training. For our paper, Starr et al. 2014 we tested how well participants could identify invasive species after receiving different training regimes (in-person, app-embedded video, and app-embedded text and pictures). Encouragingly, we found that participants trained with video were just as effective as those trained in-person. This has exciting implications for expanding the scope and scale of citizen science projects.

For my dissertation, I’ll be expanding into a new research area. I have growing interests in the fields of decoupling, telecoupling, and the role inequality plays in environmental outcomes.