A Designers Opportunity for Waste

Our visit to the SIMS Municipal Recycling facility was extremely impactful and informative. As we toured the facility, there were 2 opportunities I identified where I believe designers can step in and make an impact.

One of the major opportunities identified at our visit was to simply inform the public and make recycling stress-free. As an individual, I like to think that I am informed of best practices and how to recycle. Even as a class, I assumed we would be deeply informed. However, there were several key nuggets of information that were shared with us on best practices that no one knew about – I think this information needs to be more accessible. And who better than a group of designers to inform the public? Through visual tools, designers can make this information easily digestible, memorable, and ultimately actionable.

A few examples of best practices:

  • If uncertain about an item – recycle it! The recycling sorting facility is extremely robust.
  • No need to stress over a rinsed out recyclable item. The item can be processed by the facility if not perfectly cleaned out.
  • Aluminum foil is recyclable, even if dirty. Ball it up and send it to the recycling center.
  • Very small plastic containers (< 1inch) can be sent to trash. Very difficult to recycle
  • Compost your biodegradable items. If sent to landfill, item will never break down.

Another interesting opportunity was around the different streams of material leaving the SIMS recycling facility. The facility sorts out material into 16 streams to then sell in a free market for re-purpose and reuse. Unfortunately, not all 16 materials sorted out have a market for purchasing all the time. Which materials are not being re-purposed seems like prime knowledge for the design world. Designers could shift their practices away from those materials to reduce overall landfill waste. Whether it’s finding alternate materials that are recyclable & have a market or simply removing the material from their design in the first place. Another avenue could be to push designers to find new ways to use this perfectly good (recycled) material. Designers could develop products made from the ‘un-usable’ material, or could integrate the material into existing products to consume what would otherwise be waste. Regardless of the solution, the information of which materials are not being re-purposed is key to drive change and behavior at the early development stages, where designers have the majority of their impact.

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