Recycle better, recycle more · UX case study

alicia andrés
8 min readSep 1, 2018

Goal: Create an app to solve a problem people face daily related to a topic you are interested in.
Methodology: Lean UX.
Project duration: 2 week sprint.

❗ This is a concept project, part of the User Experience Design Immersive course I attended at General Assembly London.


How many waste did you produce today? A yoghurt pot, some fruit peel or plastic bottle maybe? Did you recycle that? Are you sure you put that waste in the right bin?

There is a bazillion of data out there about how the waste we produce is affecting the planet we all share and how recycling might help at least a little. Like this one:

‘On average, every household uses 373 plastic bottles each year, of which only 29 -less than 10%- are recycled’

And that is about plastic bottles, one of the easiest materials to know how to recycle (source: Independent).

Recycling is the topic I chose for the second project I developed as a student of the UX Design Immersive course in General Assembly. Every day tons of garbage is generated and most of it does not make it to the right bin in order to be recycled.

What do we need to recycle successfully? First we need people being willing to do so, people who care and understand the reasons to make the effort. The other requirement is to have the means to actually do it. And this is a responsibility of the local authorities: to provide a waste collection service and work with waste management companies to ensure a correct sort and compliance.

User research

Since the very the beginning of my research, I was able to confirm one of my assumptions about how people approach recycling: there are people who care and people who do not care. As simple as that. Which of the two groups is my app aimed at?

The goal of this project is to increase the recycling rates. This can be achieved by convincing people who do not recycle to do so, which is a tricky battle to win as it has to do with each one will and motivations. And we can help people who already recycle to make it better.

My target user is someone who cares about sustainability and already recycles. I conducted 8 interviews to understand why and how people recycle, what are their goals and their needs. The affinity mapping showed some common characteristics:

  • Recycling is a habit rooted in early education.
  • They are motivated to recycle because they feel good doing ‘their part’: they have a sense of responsibility to help the wellbeing of the planet.
  • The main barrier is confusing information or the lack of it about what is recyclable and where it can be properly collected.

Definition of the problem

What is the main need people have that my app can help to solve? The findings of the research showed that people who recycle know how to recycle a wide range of waste, but they are confused about how to manage some materials.

When the confusion is related to the material, people usually look for the recycling symbols that are often printed in the package. But even in these cases, they feel confused about the meaning of the symbols and things get more complicated if the package involves different types of materials.

In most cases, the confusion is not related to the material but to the way it gets recycled. This barrier is linked to how the competent authorities manage waste, which differs depending on the location.

There might be different policies even in the same city, as happens in London: There is no overall blueprint for how waste should be managed and each one of the 38 boroughs in this city has different systems.


A persona is a representation of a type of user, a key tool in the Human Centred Design framework as it helps to be focused on who are you designing for and empathise.

After the user research, we already have several details about how the people we want to help are and some patterns appear. Combining these characteristics is how personas are created.

Creating personas is an iterative process. As you are making progress on your research, your persona is becoming more specific and it gets easier to acknowledge your assumptions.

User journey

Now is time to know our persona better and identify her pain points. How is a day in Ashley’s life? What problems does she face? How does she manage daily situations?

The user journey is a tool to help visualise a scenario in which people might interact with the product we are designing. It breaks down the necessary steps to accomplish a goal and describes how the user is feeling using three basic moods: happy, neutral or sad.

User journey

Problem statement

Now the pain points are clear, we can formulate the problem statement:

People who has a real interest in taking care of the planet need a way to be sure where to put each type of waste because they want to recycle as much waste as they can.

User goals

What are Ashley’s goals? What are my users trying to do? As they have real interest in taking care of the planet, they try to put all their waste in the right bin, but the lack of clear information makes it difficult.

If we find a way to help these people to know where they should put each waste, more waste go to the right bin so more waste get successfully recycled. How might we facilitate people who strive for sustainability how to successfully recycle the maximum amount of waste they can?


We believe that making easier to identify to which bin each waste goes will achieve more waste being recycled. We will know this to be true when the recycling rate increase.


Once the problem is identified, it is time to start thinking about solutions. I ran a Crazy 8’s session to generate as many ideas as possible. This method is used in design sprints and workshops to stimulate creativity and bring ideas out of one’s mind. It is not about drawing well, it is about sketching possible solutions (or even the worst solutions, as the images below) to the problem we are trying to solve.

I decided to include a scanning feature to make easier the identification of the material, as well as a recycling symbols guide. The app would also include a database with the local information about what each borough collect to recycle and other recycling points.


User flows are very useful to start creating wireframes. It shows the steps my persona, Ashley, needs to accomplish her goal. This is the first step before sketching how the app will look like.

Paper prototype

Those are the firsts drafts I made for the app, following the steps described in the user flow. The first screen the user would see is the camera to scan the waste. If the material were recognised, the information about where to recycle it correctly would appear. In case that waste was not recognised, the user would be able to send the details so the information could be added.

In addition to the scanning feature and the recycling symbols guide, I included a section related to the disposal of different types of materials and a section to show all that the user has scanned. This could be used by the boroughs to reward those who recycle the most, as Hackney is already doing with the initiative Hackney Recycling Rewards.

User testing

I tested the paper prototype with a few people and realise that I should focus on a MVP (Minimum Viable Product).

That means getting rid of some features and focusing on the main job I want the app to do: identify waste and give simple instructions on how to recycle. Also, the first screen should not be the scanning camera as is it confusing for the users.

Testing the prototype helped me to remember the design principle KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) that I have heard many times and I easily forget: most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated.

Hi-fi wireframes

With simplicity as my main goal and the amendments I made after the user testing, I created the high fidelity prototype.

Visual design

Time to create the personality the app is going to have. The first thing to do before choosing colours, typography and layouts is to work with words.

What is going to be the tone of voice? Credible, committed and straightforward are the values I chose for the app.

I also created a moodboard to help visualising what motivates this app and how it is going to look like, and a simple style guide to specify the typography, colours and iconography for the app.

Final mockup

Here you can navigate the clickable prototype.