Waste Sorting System - Eunice Chung, Frankie Gaw, Michelle Guarino, Danielle Parnes

posted Apr 30, 2011, 9:38 AM by Frankie Gaw   [ updated Apr 30, 2011, 10:17 AM by Jen Mankoff ]

The waste disposal system at Carnegie Mellon’s dining locations lack post-consumer composting, easily understandable instructions, and a sense of standardization throughout the various locations. Our project aim was to arrive at a solution that would allow an easy implementation of collection bins for post-consumer compost, recycling, and trash and a new visual communication system to inform and educate students and faculty. We identified waste sorting and pre-consumer composting as a valuable and appropriate area to address because of CMU’s past efforts related to the environment, and more specifically the waste management systems they have put into place and lack. In order to gain a better understanding of how to address our established problem, we observed Phipp's Conservatory, the University Center, and the Café in Resnik to see how they deal with their waste.

At the University Center, the scattered placement of the waste bins impeded students in their willingness to recycle because of the extra effort it took to go from from one bin to the other. Also, the lack of cohesiveness between the trash can and recycling bin created a disjointed waste disposal system that was evident in students’ unwillingness to make an effort. 

At Phipps Conservatory, we found an existing system that was effective in organization, but lacked a visual hierarchy that was comprehensible to the viewers. Although differentiated by category, the overwhelmingly tall signage and large number of items inhibited the person from seeing their system. This resulted in many people to look into the trash, to see in real time what was physically being put into the trash to reinforce their decision making. However, some of the bins had the wrong items, creating even more misleading visuals.

Good categorization, but lacked hierarchy in terms of the visual language and too many items on large board became overwhelming

Many people looked inside the trashcans rather than the board, but each trashcan had wrong items in them, creating even more confusion

We created a prototype to test what we learned from our previous observations with our own signage and visuals at Resnik and we found that more specific interactions such as separating food from the container weren’t practiced if it wasn’t clearly communicated to them that food was compostable and the container was recyclable. Also, the broadness of what items could go into the compost bin seemed to be overwhelming in communication. 

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Our solution to a post-consumer composting system was to create a waste disposal receptacle supported by a visual system that both educated and guided students to organize their waste correctly. We wanted the design of the trash bins to encourage the user to place the most trash possible in composting and recycling and the least possible to go into the trash. Three main layers of hierarchy are communicated: physical trash, category label, category details; which allows user to quickly and easily take in information; minimal text helps to reduce comprehension time and confusion. 

. In order to address the the lack of standardization and extra effort for students to recycle, we organized the trash bins based on the order in which people throw away their trash, generally going from the food, to the container holding the food, to any other items that cannot be composted or recycled. Organizing the bins according to that process was a crucial part in creating a natural routine that’s straightforward and understandable to someone who may have never composted before. 

We put category labels in front of the trash bins, which utilize colored signage to visually differentiate the different types of trash. We placed the signage in front of the trash to allow viewers to visually see each category first as they approach the trash cans. Behind the bins, we designed clear windows to house the actual objects of its given category to serve as a straightforward visual guide. These windows would allow the dining establishments to insert items which are commonly used and replace them as items change.


We also created a separate bin for food scraps, in order to clearly bring to attention the distinct nature that category. This allowed for compostable items as a whole to be organized more clearly, and therefore, decreasing the chance for contamination. 

In conclusion, we have been able to work toward a more effective communication system, and found that mainly simplification and realistic representation are the most effective methods.   As a next step, we could further work with the Green Practices Committee to further refine out project to be presented to the university as a proposal.  To get to this state, we would need to do further research on the costs associated, and further refine the systems by which the trash would be placed into the correct dumpster.  We could also contact the universities we found that have post-consumer composting to get a better idea of how they implemented it, what works well, and what suggestions they could provide from their experiences.