Trash Matters – Responsible Consumption

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Team: Phuong Anh Nguyen, Eugenia Ramos, Hannah Rudin, Runshi Wei

Taking one of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals–Responsible Consumption and Production–as our scope, our team reframed the problem with recycling, focusing specifically on small-chain cafes.

Living in New York means living with the culture of convenience and to-go packagings. On one hand, cafes and similar food businesses provide their patrons with convenient solution to New Yorkers’ busy lifestyle with to-go coffee and food. On the other hand, the amount of unrecyclable materials, or incorrectly recycled items keep increasing due to unclear and uningrained trash disposing instructions. “Sustainable,” and specifically “recycle,” has become an ineffective buzzword. However, that does not mean most people in NYC do not care about the environment.

After extensive primary and secondary research, we found out that small cafes in NYC do attract environmentally conscious clients who have already incorporated recycling habits in their everyday life. This was a positive start to our project, since we realised that we did not have to encourage the need for recycling as much as we thought, but we did need to provide the customers with the right information.

The problem that we then focused on was the fact that most people would recycle their paper coffee cup in order to have a better impact on the environment and take responsibility for their actions, but they did not know that laminated cups were a problem in the recycling chain since they are not recyclable. Also, a meal or drink to go involves many different items, made out of different materials, which means they don’t all belong in the same recycling trash can. This makes the process more tedious and confusing for the user to recycle their packaging items, which turns into more trash in the waste bin, simply because it’s easier.

This is because through media and communication means we are induced to believe that any type of paper is recyclable and that this action is a positive one. Therefore, we knew how to fix the problem: Correct information or prompts on each packaging item that tells the user how to dispose of their used coffee shop packaging items correctly.

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