UX Research into Recycling Problem

A while back I was given a prompt to do some digging into, and I’d like to share my findings here. To get these answers I used a comparative analysis, online research, screener surveys, and interviews. To evaluate these results I used user personas, user journeys, and affinity mapping.


On average, a typical middle-class American family discards over 4M lbs of materials to keep up with their lifestyle, the majority of which is daily waste.

We are looking to design an interface that can help Americans be more conscious about the waste they throw away and/or manage their waste disposal.

This prompt was given to me by a company called Ghostery, who’s name I will reference as the title of the product I design.


The average middle class American family is unaware of the large amount of waste they create.

I believe an interface created for the average middle class American family can help decrease this waste.

Goal of This Research

  1. Researching the Problem Space

My first order of business is always to research existing products. This way I can get an idea of the problem space: Is the problem already being solved? In what way is it being solved? Can I learn from other solutions?

I researched five different companies: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Yelp, Waste Management, LetGO, and Rubicon.

I chose these companies for different reasons. The EPA is the first resource that comes up when a person googles anything about recycling. This is the government given resource that people have to look to for their recycling needs. Similarly, Waste Management is an online resource that holds a ton of information on how to recycle, including bill pay services. It was important to research the available information around the recycling issue. Is the problem that people are not getting the information that need? Do people know how to recycle? Are the EPA and WM websites useable?

I analyzed the function of Yelp in the recycling system because this app gives people information about the location of different recycling centers in their area. Do people know where to recycle?

LetGo is a super cool app that lets people sell their old stuff to other people. So instead of throwing out their stuff and creating more waste, their items are being reused. Is this a function people would be interested in using more? What kinds of things do people throw away that could be recycled or reused?

Rubicon is an awesome app that is focused on “ending waste in all of its forms.” This was one of the only recycle-focused apps I was able to find, and it was mostly focused on larger scale recycling. Think: big business, cities. Could a similar software be applied on a smaller scale, to the average American?

2. Digging into the Subject

Who is our user?!!!! This is always the most important questions we as designers have to ask.

I needed to find out more about our target audience. What does it mean to be the “Typical Middle-Class American”?

This information was a lot harder to find than one would think. There are a lot of discrepancies around what it means to be “typical.” I chose to focus in on the monetary aspect of this nomenclature. I was surprised to learn that most government approved resources agree on the following numbers:

3. Finding Our Users

Next I devised a screener survey to find the appropriate audience to gather more info from. The questions were as follows:

  1. What is your name?
  2. What is your zip code?
  3. Do you live in a family household where assets are shared?
  4. Yes b. No. c. Unsure
  5. How many people live in your household? a. 1 b. 2 c. 3 d. 4 e. 5 or more
  6. On average, what is your household’s annual income?

a. less than $26,000 b. $26,000 — $36,000 c. $36,001 — $58,000 d. $58,001 — $80,000 e. more than $80,000

It was important to ask the user their zip code because a yearly salary changes in value depending on where a person is located. It was important to ask them if their assets are shared because this will also change the household income.

4. Interviewing Users

I came up with seventeen questions to discover the behaviors and pain points surrounding waste creation and disposal of our users. I usually did not have to ask all seventeen, as users answered the questions on their own as the conversation flowed. Interviews lasted an average of 20 minutes.

Questions included things like:

What do you think about the process of recycling?

Around how many bags of garbage do think your household produce in a week?

What is the most annoying part about disposing of your waste/recycling?

How big of an impact do you think your family has on the environment?

How do you think you could limit your waste/ What are the first steps you would take?

Responses included things like:

“I think recycling is very important. It’s the one thing that has been instilled in the population” — John

“I think every small thing could make an impact on the environment.. maybe not a big impact, but my family could make a small difference.” — Ryan

“I’ve never tried reducing my waste. Because I just didn’t think about it that much. Every once in a while I will try. I’ll try to refill a plastic water bottle instead of getting a new one.” — Rebecca

“The hardest part about reducing my waste would be giving conscience attention to it. Thinking of areas where I could save and instilling it into my daily lifestyle” — John

5. Analyzing the data

User personas are a great way to consolidate data and get to know your average user.

User journeys are a great way to map out where your product might fit into your user’s average day.

After getting to know my users, I found the major pain points include lack of information and lack of convenience.

6. Constructing the Problem Statement

After getting to know my problem space and user better, I was able to construct a valid problem statement for my design team to work off of:

7. Finding a Solution

Because this was just a research project, finding the solution counts as “next steps” for me.

Some things to think about include:

  • Major pain points are lack of information and lack of convenience. How might we design an interface that solves this for the average American?
  • Should we conduct a second round of interviews? Should we further explore the buying behaviors of Americans? Which area would we like to solve for?
  • What are our limitations? What kinds of resources do we have available at Ghostery in designing? Does this need to be a free product, accessible to everybody?

I have some ideas… time for design studio with my team!

Can we make an app that has recycling information readily available? Can users scan their items with this app instead of typing every item in? Can users be given ideas about what reusable items they can replace their disposable items with? Will they be told where to buy these items or find sales?

How about a Smart Bin that allows users to scan items and judge whether it should be garbage or recycling?

Designing and sharing awesome user experiences.