Pittsburgh Waste Management System

Service Design - CMU Design Spring 2019

Duration: 3 Weeks
Skills: Systems Thinking, Information Architecture, Graphic Design
Collaborators: Youie Cho, Mia Tang, Sammie Kim, Elizabeth Han, Charmaine Qiu

Role: For this project, I conducted background research on Pittsburgh's waste management + possible interventions, iterated on mess maps, and developed the final poster's visual coding system.


In this project, my team and I researched and explored Pittsburgh's waste management system. Working in a team of six, we dissected and mapped out the city's flow of waste and the social-technical problems present within the system's existing processes.


Being a Wicked Problem , every aspect of Pittsburgh's waste management is so interconnected and related that it's almost impossible to find a clear-cut solution.


After in-depth secondary research and information mapping, we decided to target the young adult demographic through various interventions focused on increasing awareness, waste-literacy, and action conditioning.

Exhibited at RSD8 Systems Thinking Conference

01 / Initial Mapping

To begin the research process, we jotted down generic waste management issues present in the united states. Visually, we structured the map to branch radially, starting with broad generic ideas to more niche problems.

In our next iteration of mapping, we further refined the existing map, adding stakeholder relationships and deeper analysis into key problems.

02 / Futures Thinking

Throughout this process, we refined our complex map with the intent of eventually designing an intervention that would alleviate the issues within the waste management system. To do so, we utilized futures design thinking: that is:

1) Mapping out what the current situation and features that are dominant / dormant.
2) Projecting the best case scenario of what Pittsburgh would be like if all issues were solved.
3) Tracing back from the projected scenario to the graph's middle point, that is how we can potentially bridge the present and the future.

03 / Mess Mapping

With much of the research done, our team of five began mess mapping the waste management system on Kumu, a collaborative idea mapping platform. The map on the left illustrates a number of physical sources and destinations that Pittsburgh's waste travels through. The map on the left connects the sources of waste to the core social practices that allow these issues to exist.

04 / Final Development

From here on, my team and I began compiling all our information into a cohesive and systematic manner. This part of the process involved further research, a high level of collaborative organization, and hours of pixel pushing. The final product, shown below, was a 24" x 36" poster.

Analysis of Map

We designed the map to illustrate existing policies, sources of waste, and their respective destinations. Each node is linked to its source/ destination with solid black lines. Within many of the connections we identified, we noted the type of problem that exists within that relationship. These problems fall into the category of missing infrastructure, stakeholder relationships, or systematic, awareness, and economic holes.

Map Legend

05 / Intervention Overview

Target Users

Our intervention focused on the university ecosystem, specifically targetting undergraduate and graduate student in Carnegie Mellon. We wanted to target the age range of 18-25, because eventually, these individuals would be the policymakers and leaders of the next generation. Though we're targeting Pittsburgh's young adult demographic, we designed these interventions to be adaptable to any campus community. This meant implementing a system that:

1) Brings awareness through live personal + all-campus statistics.

2) Uses gamefication to incentivize healther usage/disposal of certain materials depending on the type of trash thrown away.

3) Educates students on consumer materials and their respective ecological footprint.

This led us to develop two interventions that function separately but harmonize when used together. The first is an app called GreenMellon, which visualizes all-campus disposable statistics, gamefies the trash disposal experience, and monitors your own personal weekly / data waste habits.

The second is an interactive product label for on campus-sold products. These labels are geared towards increasing curiousity and awareness of ecological impact.

Primary GreenMellon features

06 / Intervention One: GreenMellon App

GreenMellon is intended to be an app that provides insight, sparks engagement, and brings awareness to college students and their waste practices in the Carnegie Mellon environment. Due to strict time restraints for the project, I only designed the essential functionalities of this app.

Primary GreenMellon features
App Function Ideation

Understanding that our target user were students, we began brainstorming possible ways to structure GreenMellon and it's functionalities. We wanted focus on three primary goals:

- How to engagingly provide insightful EDUCATIONAL information.

- How to best help students RECORD their waste practices.

- How to visually represent this gathered DATA.

Initial Round Ideating
Exploring Data Organization

Next we focused on the DATA visualization portion of the app and brainstormed ways to represent the information. Similar

Second Round Ideating
Personal + Campus-wide Live Data

The GreenMellon app provides live data and statistics for a user's waste practices as well as for Carnegie Mellon as a whole. The app also utilizes gamification through a peer-to-peer ranking system to bring excitement and motivation to developing better trash disposing habits.

Data Visualization Dashboards
Progress Notifications

As students engage more with the app and GreenMellon continues to gather data, the user will begin to get daily or weekly updates on their progress regarding consumption and how they compare to other students across campus.

We intentionally tailored the app's language to be very colloquially informal and playful in hopes of diminishing the idea of environmental responsibilty as an obligation.

Progress Notifications
Integrated Camera + QR Scanner

GreenMellon has a built-in camera that allows students to submit to the app system what materials they're throwing away. Discussed more in the next intervention, the app also has an integrated app scanner that reveals educational information about that material's ecological footprint.

We also decided to hide the ecological impact information unless users wanted to reveal it. This is done to minimize counterproductive guilt that might build and possibly lead to intentional ommitted submissions.

Integrated Camera + QR Scanner

07 / Intervention Two: Scannable Product Labels

In addition to encouraging higher engagement through gamefication of the waste disposal experience, we also targeted students and their lack of awareness regarding what they were throwing away daily. To compliment the app's QR scanner functionality, we designed informative sticker labels that:

1) Indicate the harzardous level scale of that material 2) Provides a QR Code that takes users to more detailed info 3) Shows the # of years that material will take to decompose


Designing an intervention pertaining to on-campus goods is one of the most direct ways for us to reach the student body simply because so many individuals come in contact with these products. Our goal for this intervention is for individuals to realize that not only are these plastic bottles, cardboard packages, and rubber goods things that we consume, but also things that we return back into the environment.

07 / Final Words

Intervention — Long Term Impacts

We designed these interventions to not only encourage students to better understand environmental responsibility but to also shift the practices of other stakeholders such as Carnegie Mellon Dining or Bookstore.

If our two interventions do truly influence students' decisions of consuming and disposing of certain materials, University suppliers will be forced to adapt and begin using more eco-friendly materials. This postive feedback loop would over time transform CMU as an institution and other universities within the greater Pittsburgh area.

Credits to Mia Tang for developing this model :)

Given three weeks to research, gigamap, and design an intervention, we were extremely restricted on how far we could take this project. Through this process I learned how to synthesize and sift through large amounts of information and isolate key problems. If I had more time on this project, I would dive into deeper UX research for our proposed interventions.