Designing a Better Trash Chute

Programs that make folks pay for garbage services based on how much they throw away can cut down trash in landfills. Designers are looking for ways to adapt these programs to multiunit buildings.

2 minute read

August 8, 2017, 12:00 PM PDT

By Casey Brazeal @northandclark


Koryenyeva Tetyana / Shutterstock

Policy makers looking to curb waste have had some success with "pay-as-you-throw" schemes, which charge families different amounts for their trash service based on how much waste they produce. One such program in Boulder, Colorado was shown to cut waste to landfills by more than 30%. Now designers are looking to adapt this type of program to multi-unit buildings where it can be much more tricky to tell who is throwing away what and the tragedy of the commons can take hold.

"We think a combination of the right incentives and, yes, trash chute innovations can enable pay-as-you-throw to take hold in apartment buildings — and, over time, improve landfill diversion and recycling rates in cities," Jesse Shapins writes in a Medium post on behalf of Side Walk Talk. In designing for an apartment building, the team had a series of unique challenges to work through, they needed to make something that would identify what apartment was throwing away what garbage without making the residents feel as if their privacy was being invaded.

To test the system, the team created a pilot group and, while they didn't charge the test subjects based on what they threw out, they did apply nudges. "The ultimate goal of a pay-as-you-throw program is to increase recycling rates. In this prototype, we didn’t introduce payment as an incentive, and instead tested simpler behavioral nudges of showing people how much trash they threw away in comparison with neighbors," Shapins writes. The groups tests are not over and the team hopes to continue to scale up to a full building. "We remain focused on the fundamental first step: making trash individually measurable within a multi-family setting," Shapins says.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017 in Medium

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