Recycling Bin Redesign

It’s a creative challenge. Take 12 design students, add representatives from ten municipalities and you have the ingredients for the first rethink of recycling bins in Metro Vancouver.

Five teams of students presented their ideas in a workshop after four months of work. This collaborative event was organized by Metro Vancouver, in an effort to come up with a uniform design that could be put in place across the region.

Emily Carr University graduate student Andreas Eiken explains the rationale for the project.

“The challenge we’ve been asked to solve is to look at make it easier to recycle in public spaces, based on four different scenarios — a parkscape, a busy intersection, a transit hub, and a public event.”

The project represents Eiken’s master’s thesis.

“What excited me was the diversity of the concepts. One concept looked at the elements of fun and sculpture and play, another concept was very modular, the festival concept was very systemic in how it works. And now we get to find all the highlights of that and the best components and move it forward.”

Louise St. Pierre is Eiken’s thesis advisor.

“The idea of bringing a live project into the studio is usually very energizing for the students and helps them deal with these issues quite seriously and quite directly.”

For St. Pierre is the first step in a bigger journey.

“My wish is that we would move a lot further and a lot faster and think about what we waste as rather than thinking up how to clean up after ourselves a little more nicely.”

The workshop participants recognize that the current system could be better, and welcome the brainstorming process.

“We’ve never seen something like this where they bring all the coordinators and all the professionals together before we implement anything,” says Tessa White, the Solid Waste Coordinator for the Township of Langley.  “So i think it’s very refreshing and it could be used in all sorts of ways within the municipal governments.”

Paul Gagnon, Chief Zero Waste Officer for the City of Vancouver echoes White’s optimism.

“I think this sort of process right here where you get all the municipalities to come together and talk about their issues and allow a third party like the students here to come up with a possible solution; if we as municipalities see that that there is a possible solution for the region maybe we all could move in the same direction.”

The first group gets a lot of positive feedback.

“I think that one (the first design) could be used in all different facets,” says White. “It could be smaller, it could be bigger, it could be used in a park, it could be used on the street, it’s not just at a skytrain or something like that. because the more models you have the more bags you have to do, the more steps you have to take, whereas if you can find one unit that could be used for a variety of different purposes I think that’s the best option.”

The next phase of the process saw Eiken developing a prototype, based on the feedback from this group. That prototype was tested on campus at the University of BC, in another collaboration, this time with students at the brain and attention research lab – or BAR lab as it’s known – in the department of psychology. The bins are placed in a barren setting on campus and usage is monitored.

“Today we have two aims with this project,” says Alex DeGiacomo, a UBC graduate student. “One is part of a collaboration we’re doing with Emily Carr University. “Right now we’re testing out the bins and our main question at the BAR lab is in terms of the setting in which it’s placed. So we have reason to believe that people will be more careful with what they throw out if the surrounding is more beautiful.”

The prototypes in the “ugly” location don’t get a lot of use, but there is still more testing to be done.  It’s a long process involving a wide ranging collaboration. It’s hoped it will result in a final product being recommended to Metro Vancouver sometime in 2015, that could eventually be put into use throughout the region.

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