Juan Sanchez

Thinking out loud.

Oct 24, 2011

Why is the process of recycling so hard? Paper, plastic, trash, compost, etc. and all their respective bins can drive me crazy.

I was recently at a local CostCo doing a user interview and had to skip lunch beforehand. On the way out I thought I'd grab a hotdog to curb my hunger. After devouring my meal I went to throw away my trash and I was confronted with different colored recycling bins.

How clever, I thought. There's some nice color-coding, instructions and silhouettes to help me map what items need to be discarded where. This should be a piece of cake, but then things broke down.

I was overwhelmed by the feeling I might make a wrong decision and put something in the wrong bin. I went to throw something in one bin, then changed my mind or double-checked once I realized there weren't others of that item in there. Eventually, I think I put everything in its right place, but I could see others got frustrated and just dumped everything in one bin.

This experience made me think about whether or not the concepts used to help patrons map their trash to the appropriate bins could have been pushed further. I thought the color-coding and silhouettes were key components, but they only got me half way there in terms of reaching my goal. It also didn't help that I was also in a rush.

In fact, what immediately came to mind was a toy I'm sure we all remember from our childhood; shape sorters.

So… What if the paper plates, cups, silverware, napkins were all color-coded to match the bins? For further enforcement, shapes could also be used to make a connection to the trash and the bins. For me, this would make things easier to understand and may even bring a degree of playfulness.

Would it be more expensive to make this solution happen over what's currently in place? I'm sure it is. However, how expensive is it for people to sort out misplaced trash later down the line? How much is it to print out those banners of instructions? Is the savings worth the additional "strain" on customers?

In the end, I'm sure something like this might be cost prohibitive and hard to maintain, but I know at the time a system like this may have helped me out a bit. I really think using the silhouettes provided the strongest recognition for me, but it didn't solve the problem of materials.

For all I know there could already be a solution to this. I thought posting my thought process here might be worth while considering I seem to be having a lot of things like this popping into my mind. We'll see if I can make a habit of it.