From Design to Debut: Fun Recycling Bins to Promote Green Living

February 2023

“Blue for paper, yellow for aluminium cans and brown for plastic bottles” has become a slogan that most people are familiar with. However, the amount of recycled materials has failed to reach an target levels due to various limitations. This was the impetus for a group of university students who were participants in a Hackathon organized by Link Scholars Alumni, to design their “Fun recycling bins” and make a prototype with the desire that the innovative design could promote recycling.

Hong Kong disposes of a hefty amount of solid waste. Statistics show that in 2021 a total of 4.15 million tonnes of solid waste was disposed of at landfills, averaging 11,358 tonnes per day which is about the weight of 757 double-decker buses. Due to the high population density, waste disposal facilities are becoming saturated at a fast pace, making recycling more crucial. Nevertheless, some citizens might put unrecyclable objects into the recycling bins, thus dragging down the efficiency of the whole recycling process.

Last summer, awardees of the “Link University Scholarship” participated in a series of workshops in which a psychology consultant shared ways to promote green living using the “Nudge Theory” in psychology, as well as how to plan, test and organise related activities. The participants applied what they had learnt to create environmentally-friendly solutions. The “Fun Recycling Bins” stood out.  

Due to the high population density, the wase disposal facilities are becoming saturated at a fast pace, making recycling more crucial.

Facelift for the bins

The “Fun Recycling Bins” is a brainchild of three “Link University Scholarship” awardees from different universities and majors. When they visited Lok Fu Place, they found that there were non-recyclable items such as paper towels and drinking straws in the recycling bins; the silver bins also looked monotonous and inconspicuous, which they thought might contribute to poor recycling performance.

Inspired by Tetris, they designed a set of brightly-coloured, translucent recycling bins. The opening of the bins was adjusted according to the size of the sorted items and samples were put inside for public reference. Why do the bins look different? Ching Ching, one of the participants and a business administration major at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, explained that adjusting the size of the opening would prevent the collection from out-of-size waste, so people were less likely to throw in non-recyclable stuff. The translucent bins and the placement of recycling samples would encourage people to follow suit and dispose of recyclable items.

The translucent bins and the placement of recycling samples would encourage people to follow suit and dispose of recyclable items.
Three students design the new recycling bins.

From design to debut

Unlike other Hackathons, Link helped the winners turned their ideas into reality. Link set up the recycling bins designed by the winning team under the escalator near the Wang Fai Bridge entrance of Lok Fu Place for 12 days. In addition to comparing the performance between the old and the new recycling bins, Link also interviewed some residents to understand their motivation for recycling and their comments on recycling bins.

Woo Shi-nam, Kenny, a member of the team, praised the arrangement. “From the ideation stage at the beginning to modifying the prototype for manufacturing, every step of the process was carried out in practice so we really had to put ourselves in the users’ place when brainstorming on the new design.” Another member, Yip Tsz-ching, was mainly involved in drawing the prototype design, and she shared with us her experience of testing the functions of the bins: “Our initial design focused on waste reduction but neglected the difficulty faced by staff when changing the garbage bags. Although we tackled this issue by adding a hook, there was still the risk of the recycled items falling out from the bags due to the irregular openings of the recycling bins. The experience made me realise the importance of practicality to design and how designers should always consider the needs of the end-users.”

To evaluate the efficiency of the new bins, they compared the weight of recycled items between the old and the new recycling bins, in addition to interviewing some shoppers.
To evaluate the efficiency of the new bins, they compared the weight of recycled items between the old and the new recycling bins, in addition to interviewing some shoppers.

Community recycling requires innovation and function

To address the issue of recycling, innovation and function are both necessary. Although the experiment result was not as expected, the team learnt much about recycling through the process of trial-and-error. Kenny said that he was studying Chinese Medicine and Biomedical Science in Hong Kong Baptist University and although recycling or environmental protection might seem irrelevant to his future, it actually taught him a great deal. He explained how through researching ways to promote recycling in daily life, he became inspired tolive a more environmentally friendly life. It is his hope to continue improving the design of the recycling bins in order to encourage recycling in the community.

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