A couple years ago, my mother visited New York City for a month. While she was spending time at my apartment, she asked me where I kept my food waste bin and how she could separate trash from them. I unconsciously told her: “You can just throw everything in a plastic bag. I will take care of it on the way out.” She gave me a weird look and said, “Well, who is going to separate all that dirty trash then?” Before she mentioned it, I did not really think about who is going to separate them. There was a shoot on the end of my floor hall away, and I was just about to dump it all in there.
Though I learned in school that we must separate trash before throwing away, I was not really taking a proper action in reality. South Korea is a country that has the most strict rules about the mandatory recycling, and my mother was so used to separating every trash that she was throwing away. Therefore, she was shocked over the fact that there were no strong rules about the recycling in the United States.
When I went back to South Korea, I saw a new cube shape machine in my home balcony. It was something that I have never seen before, so I asked my mother what it was. She said it was a food waste drying machine. Apparently, if you put a certain amount of food
waste in that machine and click a button, it would make those nasty and stinky food waste into a powder. I was so amazed by people’s effort to make less food waste and come up with new ideas to find a better solution for things that we can easily throw away. In order to come up with an innovative solution like this, people should first realize that we have a big problem here to solve and reconsider about our daily experience on recycling. Social norms and attitudes would change in a positive way if more people start to see this recycling experience as a design opportunity to change systems, cultures, and perceptions; that was apparently what was happening back in my home.
When I saw the amount of trash flooding into the SIMS Municipal facility, I could not believe this was actually happening in New York City. I knew a part of this was my fault.Blaming on New York City and their system, I was not doing anything about it. Seeing the mountains of wastes, I realized that I was so ignorant about recycling because I was too busy living my own life.
Listening to our presenter who spoke passionately about why we should not use plastic bags and various sustainability practices currently in use, I thought that this is something we should have known before and be familiar with. If I were more familiar about ways to recycle in my New York apartment, I assume that I would have done it differently and have different attitudes on this sustainability concern. Though I know the problem is much bigger than something that one individual can handle, social norms are something that changes over the time. As a designer, the increasing an awareness of this big issue and making sure that people know a correct information about this recycling process would force people to think about this issue again. Designing interaction campaigns on this recycling issue could be a meaningful step to make that initiative impact.