A holistic solution to enhance students' recycling practices on campus keeping in mind their intrinsic motivation

My Role

  • UX Researcher
  • UX Designer
  • UX Writer


Collaborated with 3 other HCI graduate students as part of this project. (2 Researchers and 2 Designers)

What I did

  • User Interviews and Observations
  • Affinity and Empathy Mapping
  • Designing Information Architecture
  • Wireframes for Community flow
  • Heuristic Evaluation and Usability Testing

Tools Used


Project Overview

Improper recycling is a huge problem in the United States. Despite efforts to promote recycling, students often exhibit improper recycling habits, leading to a significant amount of waste ending up in landfills. Effectively recycling the products like paper, metal, cardboard, and plastic can reduce the size of landfills by half. Hence, tackling the problem of recycling is more crucial now than ever.

The objective of this project is to understand the root causes of improper recycling habits and to develop a solution that promotes proper recycling practices among students.

Target Users

Students of Indiana University living on/ off campus

The Problem

  • User Awareness - resolving confusion around what kind of trash goes where
  • User Motivation - solving for behavioral consistency and providing opportunities for the highly motivated to create more impact

The Solution

We propose a multifaceted solution which involves:

  • Poster redesign near trash bins
  • A Mobile Application to educate users
  • Starting a Recycling club

Through our solution, we are trying to eliminate the confusion and ignorance around the trash management and instill intrinsic motivation among the users.

My UX Design Process

01 Discover

Secondary Research

Research has found that 94% of Americans support recycling and 74% say it should be a top priority. But only about 35% of people actually recycle. The leading reason behind this poor percentage value is the Americans’ lack of knowledge and awareness.

According to NYPost, “more than half of Americans are not very sure of what to recycle. In a survey including around 2000 Americans, 62% of the people think that due to their lack of knowledge, they are recycling incorrectly”.



say they always recycle a recyclable item


believe greasy pizza boxes can be recycled


believe used plastic utensils can be recycled


To understand more about our users' behavior, we observed students while disposing of waste around the campus near dining hall, cafeteria and library. We noticed students throwing recyclable and reusable items into landfill bins while also throwing unclean recyclable materials in the recycling bin.


Our team conducted 8 student interviews, and I personally interviewed 2 of them. The results revealed a common theme of confusion and frustration among students regarding waste disposal. Specifically, they expressed confusion about how to properly dispose of waste, and frustration with unclear instructions. Additionally, 3 of the interviewees highlighted unawareness of recycling impact, which they felt contributed to their apathy towards correct recycling practices.

I have been here in Indianapolis all my life, but I am still not sure about what goes where
Anonymous Participant
Undergraduate Student, IUPUI
If people are able to have that title of being like hey I'm the best recycler in this day or in this district, it'll be it'll be cool to see
Anonymous Participant
Graduate student, IUPUI
I used to separate recyclables back at home. Since I moved out, I stopped doing it because my roommates are lazy
Anonymous Participant
Undergraduate student, IUPUI
I think for some people and even now even like myself like sometimes we wonder like what really is recyclable and what is not. So yeah, I think little infographics would be pretty cool
Anonymous Participant
Undergraduate student, IUPUI

Affinity Diagram

The Affinity Diagram was utilized to collect and organize insights from interviews, observations, and research, providing a comprehensive view of the issue and enabling the formulation of a problem statement. This facilitated the identification of relationships and patterns within the data

Fig 1. Affinity Mapping done on Miro with major and minor themes identified in black

User Empathy Map

To understand and empathize with our user group before creating a user persona, Empathy Map was used which helped to prioritize the user needs. The data from the real users is collated to create a user persona later

User Personas

Further in our research process, we created a user persona to flesh out the information gathered in the empathy map into more concrete and detailed descriptions of user archetypes. Persona aided us in keeping the user at the center of the design process and helping to create empathy for the user's needs, goals, and behaviors.

02 Analyze

The Core Problem

How might we design for busy university students to eliminate their confusion and encourage them to recycle properly and consistently, while taking into account their need for convenience?

Brainstorming Solutions

Once the core problem is identified, the next step is to generate a large number of ideas, regardless of their feasibility or practicality. This was done individually by each team member first and as a team later. All the ideas generated in this stage were assessed based on their potential value to users and the business, feasibility, and technical constraints. A Mind Map was created to get the bigger picture of our ideation.

Fig 2. Ideation Mind Map done on Figma post disucssions with all team members


03 Prototype

Information Architecture for the Mobile Application

Low-Fidelity Wireframes

Fig 3 to 6. Lo-fi wireframes of Home screen, Item Search and Item Details Screens
Fig 7 to 11. Lo-fi wireframes of Community Member, Community Admin, and Game Screens
Fig 12 to 15. Lo-fi wireframes of Nearest Disposal Site and Item Scanner Screens

Poster Redesign

We understood that a lot of the confusion around trash disposal could be efficiently solved through a simple redesign of the illustrations present on the recycling bins. This was a fast, cheap solution to one of our main issues. This would also serve as an access point for the Mobile Application.

The poster was strategically placed in 2 high-traffic areas frequented by students. During our observation, we noted that the students found the new poster to be engaging and easily understandable. They took a moment to review the poster before disposing of their waste. In a follow-up survey, all 3 students queried agreed that the new design was easy to comprehend thanks to its use of visually appealing illustrations.

Fig 16 and 17. Traditional poster design and our Redesign

04 Test

Heuristic Evaluation

Each team member individually applied Nielsen's ten usability heuristics to the wireframe designs. Four major usability problems were identified while evaluating the wireframes with severity ratings of 3-4. Respective actionable fixes were made while we moved forward to the Usability Testing. Below is a sample of one of the issues documented in the UAR (Usability Aspect Report):

Usability Testing

Our team performed usability testing on the mobile application by recruiting 5 users in total. We created the following series of tasks for them to complete using the product, and monitored their actions and interactions while they performed these tasks.

  • Searching for and Scanning an item to find out whether it is recyclable or not
    Task success rate: 5/5
    Time on task: Users finished the task in less than 20 seconds on an average
  • Joining the community and registering for an event
    Task success rate: 5/5
    Time on task: Users finished the task in 20 to 30 seconds on an average
  • Creating an event as an admin
    Task success rate: 2/5
    Time on task: On an average, the failed users took around 1 minute
  • Navigating to the nearest collection center
    Task success rate: 5/5
    Time on task: On an average, users took 15 seconds to finish the task

3 out of 5 participants expressed excitement and eagerness to join the community. However, 1 participant was uncertain, but indicated they would join if the events were of interest to them. On the other hand, 1 participant stated that they were not as inclined towards community membership. These results inform me of the potential areas for improvement and the need to make the community events more appealing to a wider audience.

05 Reflect

Hi-Fidelity Prototype

Fig 18. RecycleMe Homescreen

The home screen of the mobile application has access points for all the features the app offers. The Community feature has been emphasized to motivate the users to come together and get and work towards the problem collectively as a community.

The floating Item Scanner button on the bottom right helps the users to easily open the application and scan the item to view the details

Fig 19. Item Search
Fig 20. Item Search Results
Fig 21. Item Details
Fig 22. Item Scanner
Fig 23. Community feature - Member landing page

Members are presented with the following screen after login. Members can view the events that are planned by the Recycling Club and can register to the event they are interested in.

The screen also shows statistics of the impact that the club has created. This helps the members to feel motivated.

Members can also vote for the upcoming events. The poll is created by an admin.

Fig 24. Event Description
Fig 25. Community Moderator View
Fig 26. Add Events, Announcements and Polls

06 Iterate

Project Post-Mortem

Part of my process is to analyze at the end how the project went about and dissect the processes to look for opportunities for improvement. As a surgeon dissects a body after death to understand what went wrong, I feel it is important for a UX professional to do the same at the end of every project/ cycle, i.e. to do a Post-Mortem.

I believe that the following are some areas that we could have done better as a team:


Having experience only in UX research before this project was the first Design project that I worked on. Few personal learnings I had from this project were:

  • Novel ideas come last- you need to get the easy solutions out on paper before your mind can look beyond them
  • If you can do affinity mapping which is clear and has minimum conceptual overlaps, you can also design good information architectures
  • Common errors that you have seen participants make during previous usability sessions give you some sense of what not to do in wireframes even when designing a completely different application

Future Scope

Moving forward, we expect that these solutions can be tested in other universities for further refinement. The scope of this application can be further improved by executing the following ideas:

  • The application can be used by other universities as well for managing recyclable waste effectively
  • Integrating the app with other IU applications to ease user discovery
  • Adding additional features such as event reminders, better admin controls, more informative and engaging games

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