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Waste not: Weigh your Waste

In the 2009 conference paper ” Weigh your waste: a sustainable way to reduce waste,” authors  Alex A. Gartland and Paulina Piasek present an interactive waste disposal device, which helps users recycle and/or reduce waste in the home or work environment.

The system they propose is made up of a digital scale that is embedded inside a large wheelie-style trash receptacle, along with a touch screen inside the home. The paper outlines the researcher’s ethnographic and contextual studies as well as user testing. A small sample  people were asked to consider the tool in a residential setting, and a smaller sample were asked to consider the tool in a business setting. While the great majority of participants suggested they were concerned about the environment, most of them did not recycle prior to participating in the study. It was suggested that cost savings might encourage greater attention to this issue.

The researchers also led a focus group to evaluate the concept and design of the Weight Your Waste (WYW) system, and it was during this session that it was found that a web interface would not be compelling enough and that a stand-alone screen was more likely to get the kind of attention needed to engage users with the tool. This is perhaps worth consideration for other kinds of eco-feedback tools, some of which rely on web interfaces. It would be interesting to know how effective such interfaces are in practice.

Weigh your waste prototype

Weigh your waste prototype screen shot.
Source: http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1520340.1520414


This kind of technological solution would likely helpful in areas where users are charged waste removal fees according to the weight of said waste. Otherwise, the choice of measurement of weight rather than, say, volume may be arbitrary, and not reflective of environmental benefits from alternate materials for disposal. For example, styrofoam is very light, not often recyclable using municipal collections, yet is not something we’d currently like to encourage as a sustainable form of packaging.  That being said, the researchers found that the businesses surveyed were not even aware of the costs of waste disposal, so one must assume that the charges (in 2009 Ireland) were perhaps currently insufficient to garner the attention of those watching the expenses of their enterprises.

Source (incl. images): Alex A. Gartland and Paulina Piasek. 2009. Weigh your waste: a sustainable way to reduce waste. In Proceedings of the 27th international conference extended abstracts on Human factors in computing systems (CHI EA ’09). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 2853-2858. DOI=10.1145/1520340.1520414 http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1520340.1520414
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