OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign up, Login or Learn more

Make recycling more convenient

For those of us in urban environments, a problem with making recycling a habit is inconvenience. People don't like mess, smell or inconvenience. They also don't like confusion. Make attractive bins for the home. Color-code them and add lids the make recyclable, disposable bags for inside each. Put images onto the bags and in the bin lids showing what can(not )be recycled. What is easy becomes habit.

Photo of Vero Gallagher
7 7

Written by

Explain your idea in one sentence

Attractive, color-coded recycling bins with lids for the home with recyclable bags inside, both with images for what can(not) be recycled.
One of the problems with moving recycling from a good idea to a habit is inconvenience: mess, smell, hassle of disposal. Another is confusion or lack of information. We have bins for outside, but limited options for inside the house. Having color-coded bins that are attractive enough to line up in the kitchen or store nicely in a closet would help. They need lids to keep out animals/small children and keep in the smell/mess. If we add to that disposable bags made from the recyclable materials (paper bags for paper, bio-degradable for food, etc.) then it minimizes having to clean the bins. (Old food packaging can stink!) It also saves having to unload bags piece by piece at the recycling location then carrying the dirty bag around. Convenient. Put images onto the bins and bags showing what can(not) be recycled so we don't have to post papers on the wall until we have it memorized the lists. (Some lists are long!) Make the bags easy to carry from house to outside recycling bin. Much easier.

Describe how your idea would help form new habits and improve recycling at home

Many adults already have enough to do. Cleaning one trash can is an inconvenience; making them clean many is not a motivation to recycle. Minimize the inconvenience and it becomes more interesting. This includes minimizing unsightliness, smell, keeping it away from pets and kids and getting it out of the house. Plastic bags for recyclable plastic are easily available. Having the bins and bags color-coded and with images/text on them makes it easier to remember what goes where for both adults and children. Colors and images helps those who cannot read. Images and text help people who are color blind. It is all about convenience. Make it easy for us to recycle with minimal inconvenience or having to think about even more stuff all the time.

How might you design an early, lightweight experiment to further develop your idea?

Have people of different lifestyles (singles, couples, with children) and age groups use the recycling bins at home for a month or two. Include two groups : those who already try to recycle but are not very successful and those who have not yet started separating their trash at home. See if it becomes a habit. What are the pros and cons? Do the colors help? Do the images help?

What aspects of your idea could benefit from the input of our OpenIDEO community?

What variables would be needed? Do we need different size bins and bags for different size families? How do we indicate what does and does not go into a bag? Some images are easy (fruit, paper) but others are not (types of plastics, paper with food on it such as pizza boxes and microwavable cartons). How do we visualize these? How do we make the bins and bags easily available? All of this is already available somewhere in the world, but not easy to get. How do we get it into stores? How do we reward stores for carrying them at a reasonable price?

This inspired (1)

The #Reimagine bag


Join the conversation:

Photo of Nick Brown

I like this idea - I'm convinced well designed and desirable bins designed to go in the house are a great opportunity. I think lots of recycling bins are designed without a full design specification. They need to; be easy to put things into, be secure, be space efficient, be easy to transport, be easy for the collection process.
I'm sure with a well thought through functional specification and clever design we could come up with something where it is "easy to get it right and almost impossible to get it wrong"!,I think there is a lot of opportunity in designing desirable and functional bins for the household, something that acknowledges the multiple roles of bins (easy to put things in, secure storage, space efficient, easy to move, easy to empty) So many of the bins are designed just with how you empty them into the collection truck, without thinking about the other essential functional requirements and aesthetics. It would be great to design something where for the householder it is "easy to get it right - almost impossible to get wrong!

Photo of Vero Gallagher

I agree with you, Nick, about the design not being thought through.
I also find that many organizations focus on the outside bins and assume that the inside is taken care of somehow. From what friends say, that is not the case and it is one of the "fail moments" in the habit. Bags sitting out are a nightmare in regards to safety, aesthetics and convenience so people decide separating garbage s just not worth at the moment they are opening packaging.
Also related to this is the fact that we all need educating on what can (not) go into a specific bin and knowledge is not set after reading a list just once. We need to be indoctrinated over time if we want to build a habit. I myself forget that oily pizza boxes don't go into the paper bin. And what about guests? When we have visitors there are very few who have identical recycling rules to ours. How do we help everyone using recycling bins learn - and then remember - what goes where? Visuals make that easier than text does.

View all comments