Metro Vancouver is a “political body and corporate entity operating under provincial legislation” which consists of 22 municipalities . One of their services is to manage solid waste and recycling; people in this jurisdiction throw away nearly 1.5 million tonnes of garbage every year .
In order to help people produce less garbage and recycle and reuse more, a more effective strategy is needed. In September 2013, representatives from Metro Vancouver approached Emily Carr University’s industrial design students to collaborate in designing a new recycling system which would include a number of streams, understandable signage and text, and a usable recycling station.
For this semester-long project, we were to design an acceptable and effective recycling system based on assigned context.
What is Waste?
“What is waste?” was the first question our design instructor, Louise St. Pierre, asked during our first class. Most students gave typical answers, such as “garbage” and “unwanted materials.” We had no ready answers, however, for her second question: “where does waste go?” To understand this, we watched a documentary called Away: A Story of Trash, made by St. Petersburg College students. The video “educates and entertains viewers about the history of waste management, the current practices and problems and what the average American’s perception of what ‘throwing away’ garbage really means” . After viewing this, we had a better understanding of “the story of trash” in America: piling up waste in landfills is a critical issue, and city managers need a better solution for the future. People need to improve their practice of the 3 Rs: “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.”
Watching the film, however, did not help us understand the specific waste that Canadians produce. Thus, our first assignment, “What-Is-Waste,” was to learn about our own garbage by separating our food waste and collecting all solid waste over a three- or four-day period. We arranged and classified solid waste into three categories: organic waste, packaging waste, and refundables. The intention of this challenge was to highlight for us how much waste we created every day. While the amount of waste collected varied depending on the number of the people in the household, we were all surprised at the amount of waste we created.
A Change of Behaviour
Our next step was to learn about changing human behaviour, and what method we could apply to accomplish this. As an experiment, my fellow student, Evan Hutchinson, and I set up three different types of signage in certain areas of our school: the cafeteria, an elevator, and an entrance. The results revealed that some people followed the signs and changed their behaviour, while others stayed with their routine and ignored them. This outcome made us more curious about behaviour patterns. Our research led us to the “Fun Theory” commercials by Volkswagen, which illustrate how the “world’s deepest bin” got more people to deposit garbage there rather than on the ground . After viewing this video, we developed an initial concept for a new recycling bin.
Another critical issue we found during our research was that many people do not recycle. According to Ashley Schiller in “Why People Don’t Recycle,” there are several reasons: inconvenience, no space at home to collect recycling, no monetary incentive, lack of belief in its effectiveness, and that it’s too difficult. As Schiller summarizes, “we still have a long way to go in expanding curbside programs to everyone” .
Identifying Problems in
the Current System
After gaining a better understanding of behaviour, we met with experts from different municipalities. The participating experts included buyers of bins, landscape architects, maintenance workers, donators, and haulers. During this workshop, the participants recorded several issues regarding streetscape recycling bins. The most important issues were signage, colour uniformity, binners collecting refundables, separating waste streams, dog waste contamination, maintenance, being animal proof, unrecyclable coffee cups, contamination, accessibility, opening options, illegal dumping, and adaptability for specific areas. This meeting helped us identify problems to focus on when developing our concepts.
Developing the Design Criteria
Identifying design criteria was a significant step during our process. After the meeting with municipalities, we identified these design priorities: user/stakeholders, accessibility and ergonomics, functions, materials, contexts, and ecosystem.
Prototype Installation and Testing
After defining current system problems and identifying the design criteria, we divided into three groups to design bins for contexts in three municipalities: Richmond, New Westminster, and Surrey. Farrah Olegario Nazareth, Tong Guan and myself performed a test installation at the New Westminster Skytrain Station. Before conducting the experiment, we had a week to develop a concept and build cardboard prototypes. To understand the site better and find a spot to install our models, we visited the station several times. We finally decided to use the space between a nearby Safeway and the Skytrain entrance, the most accessible area for people coming from different pathways. Our concept focused on creating an eye-catching installation that would change people’s thoughts about the usual recycling station: dark-coloured, dirty, smelly bins. We decided to use colourful umbrellas and triangular bins. Based on our location, we used three streams: Landfill, Refundables, and Paper. We chose three colours: brown for landfill; blue for refundables, like the recycling bin that many have at home; and yellow for the paper stream bins located at every Skytrain station. We also added clear and understandable graphics and text to the bins.
One week later, we began work on the second installation in one of five different contexts: Parks, Festivals, Busy Intersections, Skytrains, and Ticket Stations at Skytrain Stations. Kai Le Sun and I began work in a Parkscape Context. From our initial research, we conducted observations in municipal parks in Port Coquitlam, Port Moody, Burnaby, and Vancouver; we received additional information from a Metro Vancouver expert, Karen Storry, specializing in park contexts. We decided to do the installation at Sutcliffe Park on Granville Island. Our concept focused on two major streams especially important for parks: pet waste and food waste. Unfortunately, the picnic season had passed, so we were not able to do food waste testing. Focusing on a recycling station for pet waste was therefore our primary goal. Having previous installation experience, we knew that priming the user is significant. As such, we created a double set of arch-shaped bins consisting of two streams: Landfill and Pet Waste. Colour was another focal point: grey for landfill, and orange for pet waste. The final prototypes were eye-catching. The other priming element we used was dog-poop bag dispensers attached to each pet waste bin. This additional element was to encourage people to clean up after their dogs, and maintain a neat environment.
From these two installations, we gathered distinctive data and information, and assumed that the locations and streams we chose were significant causes for these differences.
During the New Westminster Station testing, we observed that visual interest drew people to look twice. Some people were attracted by the umbrellas, and stopped to see the installation. Most people were passing through from the Skytrain to street level, or vice versa. Others went to stores or restaurants located nearby. No potential users appeared concerned that the bins were not genuine waste receptacles. As a result, we observed eight people using the bins within one hour; fortunately, there was no contamination in any of the bins.
The outcome of our second installation at Sutcliffe Park was interesting: the contamination rates in both pet waste bins were unexpectedly high. Before the testing, we thought people would contaminate the landfill bins with dog poop, because dog owners usually deposit pet waste in garbage bins. Thus, it was surprising to see coffee cups, a receipt, bubble wrap, and beer cans in the pet waste stream prototype. Kai and I imagine that people need to go through a learning process to understand how to use the divided pet waste / landfill receptacles. In addition, we observed that users did not spend more than two seconds to make their decisions; we guessed that was because the bins were located in an area highly visible from a distance, due to their colours and shape. It was interesting to see how people interacted with the station; some would stop and talk about it, while others would walk through the area without stopping. Near the end of our observation, a couple walked toward the station, discussing it. When they walked away, the man came back, touched one of the bins and said, “Oh, it’s cardboard. I thought it was real.” This surprised us favourably, as we were not entirely satisfied with the appearance of the prototypes. Overall, both observations were interesting and successful. They helped us develop further ideas for the recycling station and system.
Through this project, I realised that creating a recycling system is challenging. Considering aspects such as the definition of waste, current system problems, human behaviour, and design criteria were equally important. Besides design development, working with teammates was a learning experience; there were disagreements during the process and cooperation and effective teamwork proved valuable lessons. In the future, I would do more on-site research; seeing how the public reacts is essential. Being an industrial design student is not just about creating viable ideas, but about designs which make life better — in this instance, making people understand that recycling is beneficial for not only the individual, but for the Earth.
I would like to acknowledge Evan Hutchinson, Farrah Olegario Nazareth, Tong Guan, and Kai Le Sun, my fellow students, who worked with me on different assignments for this project. I also would like to thank Louise St. Pierre and Andreas Eiken for assisting us throughout the project. Finally, I would like to thank Peter Cech and Karen Storry for their expertise and support during the project.
-  “About Us.” Metro Vancouver, n.d. 19 January 2014. <http://www.metrovancouver.org/about/Pages/default.aspx?>
-  Schiller, Ashley. “Why People Don’t Recycle.” Earth911. Quest Resource Holding Corporation, 25 Oct. 2010. 19 January 2014. <http://earth911.com/news/2010/10/25/why-people-dont-recycle>
-  “Solid Waste and Recycling.” Metro Vancouver, n.d.19 January 2014. <http://www.metrovancouver.org/services/solidwaste/Pages/default.aspx>
-  St. Petersburg College. “Away: A Story of Trash.” Online video. YouTube. YouTube, 11 May 2011. 19 January 2014. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rqRVRVqb51k>
-  “The World’s Deepest Bin.” The Fun Theory. Volkswagen, 2009. 19 January 2014. <http://www.thefuntheory.com/worlds-deepest-bin>