Question: How can we use rewards or information to promote better recycling habits?

The question stated above was our starting point for the following research endeavor. Only 60% of reusable packaging is properly recycled, is there a way we as designers can increase that amount? In order to design a working solution we needed to learn more about the problem. The following is stage 1 of 2 in my current human-centered design studio project.

Framing the Design Challenge

After reviewing the IDEO Field Guide, My team and I discussed how we would define the challenge at hand. We defined it as follows:

Our Challenge: Waste systems are in place, but the population has no motivation to follow; systematic errors are present in current recycling bins.

The Timeline


Initial Ideas: Using Habit Models

At this point we realized that we were essentially looking at how to make good habits through good products and services. With that in mind, we looked at some habit models and principles to gain a better understanding of what had already been discovered.


Although we determined we wanted to create good habits, we didn't know what those good habits were exactly. In order to get honest and unbiased information about user behavior and the current system, we conducted several observation sessions. Below are some of our prominent findings.

Stakeholders Map

During our observation period we also constructed a stakeholder map of the key players in the waste lifecycle. This helped us brainstorm all the different users involved, as well as the different places in the map where problems with the system may have been.

Secondary Research

Some of our key insights came from secondary research. We found several sources that provided us some insights about how people view trash and the act of throwing things out.

Inconvenience costs and The Elements of Simplicity

One of the primary concepts we discovered in our secondary research was the idea of inconvenience costs, values assigned to factors of inconvenience. This term originally popped up in an article about South Korean waste disposal, suggesting the higher the inconvenience cost the harder it is to get user participation. We combined this idea with Business Guru BJ Fogg's 6 elements of simplicity and used this combination as a lens to view our problem through.

The 6 Elements of Simplicity

In the book "Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products" Author Nir Eyal states that in order to build successful habitual products a designer must focus on the element the user has a deficit in.

A Cognitive Walkthrough

We made a cognitive walkthrough of the waste lifecycle to narrow down our key users and environments from the stakeholders map.


From our cognitive walkthrough we made personas of an individual from each part of the walkthrough to help us try and empathize with each of their unique mindsets.

Affinity Mapping: Finding the Defecits

With our personas in mind we used affinity mapping to identify where the deficits of the 6 elements of simplicity were for our users.

From our affinity map we identified these "hotspots" which we could focus on when finding design solutions.

Next Steps: Design Opportunities

After our affinity mapping we concluded our primary research stage. From this point we are to explore potential design opportunities with the extensive collection of information we have gathered. Below are some potential design solutions I have proposed for this project.This assignment required a digital interface for each concept.

Concept 1: Bottle Return Incentive

Playing off of our observations with the bottle scavengers, I wanted to explore how one could make that behavior more fun, socially acceptable, and convenient. This first concept proposes a smart bin that users can tap their phone to, deposit their bottles, and collect the return on the bottle in a digital wallet.

Users graphically track how many bottles they have recycled responsibly.

Users can locate a smart bin near their location and track their recently visited bins.

Users accumulate money by properly recycling their bottles and cans.

Concept 2: Fast Food Waste

This concept came from another one of our observations. I noticed that fast food packaging is often disposed of improperly simply because people don't separate their trash. This design proposes an auto-sorting waste bin, standardized packaging for fast food, and an app (either on your phone or built into the bin) that lets users explore where their garbage goes.

Users could view the garbage that was part of their order.

There would be exploded views of each element for further viewing.

Users could learn specific information about each part of their garbage.

I am in the process of updating the page, but this video is a summary of the project, all the way to its conclusion.

Credit to my Team: Monika Danh, Nathan Siu, Kathrine Barrett, George Patrikis.

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Adam Smith © 2019