Building a Better Bin part V

Monday, July 06, 2009


For this next instalment I am going to focus on yet another form of convenience, one size fits all. The concept of one-stop shopping is nothing new. Why wouldn’t you want to concentrate as many activities as possible into a single functional space? That was the driving principle behind the new recycling centers; one stop shopping for recycling on campus. We really wanted to do this for many reasons; mostly for efficiency of resources and the ability to increase the amount of waste captured.
So the goal was to create the most multi-purposed recycling station in one location. This meant that the first thing that we had to do was marry the waste and recycling systems. Two different disposal locations means too many mitigating factors. What if the recycling bin is a little further than the waste bin? What if one of the waste bin gets moved away? Well… people are likely going to put the wrong things in the wrong bins. Now if we squish all the bins into one station, not only do we eliminate some of the selective convenience, we also reduce the amount of travel time that cleaning staff take to wander from bin to bin.

Next, we found that one of the big problems that we were having was that some of our bins had flaps. I kid you not, flaps were a huge problem. You see after a good amount of use the flaps would become dirty or worn as piece after piece of waste passed by the flap. The flap then starts looking more and more unkept, and by extension dirty, unsanitary, and potentially a health issue. The solution was to simply remove the flaps. This removed the problem and made the bins more inviting.
One of the more embarrassing considerations that we had forgotten was accessibility. Traditional recycling centers were designed with a hole on top of the counter for users to drop their waste into. This was a bad idea for two reasons; first you couldn’t leave items on the counter that you didn’t know if you could recycle (which happens a lot) or if they were too big to recycle; second if you were sitting in a wheel chair you couldn’t see the hole. The solution here was to put the hole in the front of the bin (this also allowed us to put a sign right in front of the holes).

That kind of brings us to the next point which was a question of signage. There has actually been a tremendous amount of debate about this point at many conferences and institutions I have visited. A simple text that states “plastic” or “mixed fibres” isn’t good enough. People need more interactive signs that show pictures, preferably pictures of the kinds of items that they have in their hands as they are reading the signs. We even went a step further and colour coded the signs to further distinguish the categories of recyclables. These colours were selected to have differing degrees of intensity to ensure that even if you are colour blind you can still differentiate the tones.

(Example of bad bin labeling)

There is more but I am going to leave it here. The idea is that humans are predisposed to try to take the easiest path when it serves their interests. With this in mind we needed to make sure that our recycling centers served as many functions as was possible without confusing the users. -jon-

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