In an effort to bring more design education to UC San Diego, several friends and I established a Design for America (DFA) studio on our campus. As a team, we worked on a project guided by the principles of human centered design as taught by DFA in order to educate ourselves on the design process and to engage our campus community and garner interest for our new student organization. The problem space we decided to tackle was food waste on campus.
Apart from leading the effort to create the new student org administratively, I also led my project team throughout the design process from interviewing stakeholders and generating personas to prototyping our designs and implementing them on our campus.
We spent a couple weeks doing secondary online research on food waste as well as interviewing UCSD dining hall patrons and food service workers about how they handle their food waste.
We created personas of the stakeholders involved and compiled our research into a challenge packet. Below are the personas we created.
We decided to design for the student persona in food service facilities on our campus. Our interview data showed that:
- Despite having labeled bins for recyclables, food waste, and other trash, all three bins are emptied into the same dumpster by dining hall employees
- In San Diego, there is a zero percent contamination requirement for composting, forcing dining halls to toss food waste if the students do not separate their trash properly
- Students either do not care in which bin they throw their trash or realize that it all goes to the same place and therefore do not separate their trash
How can we encourage students to dispose of their trash properly in on-campus dining halls?
We had a few false starts in brainstorming ideas to promote better waste disposal habits in dining hall patrons, such as printing brochures and placing them on dining hall tables or creating a large poster instructing students what types of trash go into which bin.
Ultimately, we decided to place mirrors over the trash bins in order to make students feel self conscious as they toss their trash. Instead of attempting to change a person's habits directly, we would make them aware of their disposal habits. Forcing people to be aware of their actions would hopefully cause them to consciously change their behavior on their own.
We chose one dining hall on campus, Pines, to test our prototype. Before implementing, we took the "Landfill" trash bag out in front of the dining hall and separated the recyclables to see how much was wasted. After a few sorts, we found that about 50% of the waste thrown into the "Landfill" bin was actually recyclable material.
We then put the mirrors up over the bins for a few weeks and watched for changes in student behavior. During this time we sorted the trash from the "Landfill" bin again and found that the waste now only contained about 30% recyclable material.
We interviewed several students on their reactions on the mirror fixtures. This and a summary of our design process can be viewed in the video below.
IMPACT AND CONCLUSION
About a year after our installation, we found a similar installation using a mirror and graphic placed over a trash bin in the coffee shop located underneath Pines. We were pleased to see the impact our prototype made in other areas of our campus.
This project was my first time using the principles of human-centered design in practice. I enjoyed interviewing different stakeholders and seeing the shock value our mirror installation had on students who were made aware of their trash sorting habits. In particular, I enjoyed watching lines form around the trash disposal area as everyone became conscious of their own reflection as well as the reflections of students around them sorting their trash.