How might we encourage people to do better at recycling and waste management?

Humans have been very successful at producing an astounding array of waste. We are not so successful at managing it. A Solid Waste Audit of the Food Design Institute in 2015 identified that approximately 75% of the material in the landfill skip could be composted or recycled, and that there were significant opportunities to improve waste management. 

Through their involvement in the Graduate Diploma in Sustainable Practice, a research team came together to address this issue, comprising Senior Lecturer in design Meg Brasell-Jones, Senior Lecturer in food design Tony Heptinstall, and campus services team leader Chris Patchett. There were already systems in place, such as bins for sorting rubbish, which supported a move towards a sustainably operating, zero-waste department, but these were not well utilised. The research team explored user awareness and behaviours to better understand potential barriers to participation, by observing current behaviours and gathering feedback from individuals sharing their experience of the system. 

The proposed design intervention was to produce compelling infographics to call users to action and hopefully improve engagement in the waste management process. The research team's design brief was entrusted to a third year communication design student, Timothy Boylson-Doyle, to design for fellow students. A family of monster characters and colour associations improved signage, for example to raise awareness of the need to sort waste into component parts of different materials. After several phases of design development, prototypes were produced and installed. Feedback from users was positive and offered suggestions for improvement. The research has led to ongoing discussions and actions around developing positive behaviours towards waste management at Otago Polytechnic.

December 2018