ux research for waste management service design

  • We conducted ethnographic studies and co-creation sessions with waste management stakeholders to develop a sustainable, interconnected service design for neighborhoods in the city of Bloomington, Ind.
my main roles
  • Facilitating participatory design
  • Ethnographic toolkit development
  • Service blueprint creation
  • Service design
team members
  • Andrew Tatge, Yiying Yang, Karima Yulia, Sophia Nwankwo, & BingQing Huang

our design

Residents, waste management groups, businesses, and policymakers are stakeholders in the area of residential waste management. We conducted ethnographic studies and co-design sessions with these parties, the result of which was a service design for a comprehensive neighborhood recycling center. People we worked with included:

  • • Resident (house): Dr. Kathryn Engebretton
  • • Resident (apartment): Rozi Octavia
  • • Executive Director of the Waste Management District of Monroe County: Tom McGlasson Jr.

The recycling center is a small pavilion located in a community or near apartment buildings to take the place of a dumpster; it serves as a one-stop area for cleaning and sorting recyclables, exchanging reusable materials (e.g., cardboard and paint), and depositing compostables. It also provides a community gathering space and serves the purpose of waste management education for children.

The residents, the Waste Management District (the District), the for-profit waste management companies, and the government are the four major stakeholders involved in this collaborative service.

community center sketch

The residents are both the target audience and the co-designers of the service. The District, a not-for-profit organization partially supported by the government, acts as a consultancy to facilitate the design of the recycling center. With the help of the District, the residents will form a committee to choose the for-profit trash/recycle/composting companies that the center will contract with so that they are content with how the companies deal with the waste and how much the companies charge or pay the center.

By switching from the traditional curbside collection to the centralized collection at a community recycle center...

  1. The residents can receive tax breaks for not using city sanitation service
  2. The residents pay a smaller trash collection fee by contracting directly with for-profit companies
  3. The next generation is educated to care more about sustainability
  4. The for-profit waste management companies also benefit from this service solution because they can reduce the costs of collecting waste and receive better sorted and cleaned recyclables.

This collaborative service is flexible in the sense that the resident committee is going to decide what is best for its community and tailor the solution accordingly. Through the process of co-designing the service, the residents are more likely to take ownership and be willing to use the new service.

service blueprint

We first focused on the user experience and filled out the customer journey track. We included tracks for physical evidence, front stage, back stage, and internal interaction timelines. We then refined the blueprint to make clear the multiple actions a user can take at the center and refined the blueprint through an evaluation session with a key stakeholder, Tom McGlasson Jr. of the Waste Management District.

service blueprint

research process

I facilitated several sessions with Tom McGlasson Jr., the executive director of the Waste Management District of Monroe County (the District).

walking probe
walking probes

Tom walked us through the offices of the District and showed us around the recycling center next door. Several staff members also discussed detailed aspects of their work, from consulting with businesses about recycling to dealing with the disposal of hazardous materials.

insights from walking probes
  1. Certain times of the year are particularly busy—for example, the end of the school year and immediately after the holiday season
  2. The District has a 3-4 month turnaround period before they actually receive payment for recyclables that are sold
  3. They have a section called “Materials for the Arts” that schoolteachers and nonprofits make use of
  4. In-office recycling is very well organized; this led to comparisons for how IU could do better

experience mapping
experience mapping

After having interviewed Tom and his staff about their current operations, we decided to schedule an experience mapping session to generate ideas for how their work with others in the community could be enhanced going forward.

We presented Tom with images and words related to waste management, Post-its for freeform writing, and crafting materials such as foam board, string, and pipe cleaners to use on a timeline. The timeline stretched from March to the end of 2016 and was divided into three sections that represent the District’s main audiences: residents, businesses, and community organizations.

We asked him to map out how he would like things to be done over this timespan in relation to these audiences, including practices he would like to continue and ideal situations he would like to have happen.

research insights from experience mapping
  1. Tom would like to work with the city on the way they handle recycling, although there are present-day challenges to overcome.
  2. Most of the District’s education programs target elementary schoolers, but Tom believes educating people who can currently make a difference would have a greater impact (e.g., legislators, business owners).
  3. Tom believes that some organizations, such as IU, are often reluctant to invest in recycling/waste reduction programs due to the cost, as they don’t realize how great the long-term benefits will be (e.g., spend $100,000 today to save $250,000 in the course of five years).
  4. Ideally, the District would be able to do its own processing on site. Depending on funds, this would be done either by hand or with machines.
  5. Although recycling coming in and being sold is partly necessary for the District to stay in operation, Tom noted that reducing waste—that is, people buying and consuming less—would be best for the environment.

walking probe

“We could do a better job of helping those businesses be productive in their recycling.”

“There’s probably an art to going in and telling somebody, we’re going to modify your business just a little bit and make it so much better for you.”

“There’s lots of opportunities, you know, for joint projects and collaboration with the city, with IU, with places like Cook and some of the larger businesses, to collaborate and do a lot of things that’s not going on right now for a variety of reasons.”

design evaluation with stakeholders
evaluation session

We provided the initial service blueprint to introduce our concept to Tom. The District has many touchpoints with various groups, so he was suited to evaluating it. I encouraged him to annotate the document and add his thoughts using sticky notes and “emotion” words from taken from a PANAS (Positive and Negative Affect Schedule) evaluation. This overview and commentary format gave some structure, so as not to be too open–ended, while still prompting for a record of discussion and insights. We learned that:

re: cleaning recyclables
  1. Rinsing recyclables may increase their market value.
  2. However, it’s not always worthwhile to do so. E.g., the recycling value of a peanut butter jar does not make up for the water used to clean it.
  3. Recyclable containers for hazardous materials (e.g., bleach) could contaminate the water.

Decision: We added a notice board near the washing tube to specify which items are or are not worth cleaning. We also added a separate washing tube for recyclables that are contaminated by hazardous materials.

re: building a new recycling center
  1. The state’s permitting process for a new waste (trash) management facility is costly.
  2. Centralized composting also require permitting from the government, while composting in one’s own garden is fine.

Decision: Instead of building a brand new center from scratch, the residents will contract with existing trash/recycle/composting companies with the help of the District. The existing companies know more about the permitting process than the residents do.

evaluation session
re: switching away from curbside collection to using the center
  1. Why would they come to the center if they already pay the city tax and have the service from the city sanitation?
  2. Why would they be willing to drive or walk to the center if there is a trash bin and a recycling bin right in front of each house?

Decision: The residents have the right to choose which trash/recycle/composting companies the center will contract with so that they will know the choice is in their best interests. Also, through collaboration with the city sanitation and the for-profit companies, the residents could receive a tax return and pay a smaller trash collection fee for not using curbside collection service.

re: using the recycling center as a community common area
  1. People might be more willing to come to the center if it is also a place where neighbors can socialize with each other.

Decision: Near the recycle center, we could place picnic tables and build a playground for children so that the residents can socialize with others and do recycling in a single trip.