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Recycling in Boston

Investigating Boston resident’s recycling knowledge and habits.

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Promoting recycling as a means to achieve a more sustainable environment is a shared responsibility of individuals, communities, and cities. Recycling not only reduces waste sent to landfills but also conserves valuable resources, reduces energy consumption, and minimizes pollution. However, despite the widespread recognition of these benefits, recycling rates still fall short of their potential. In the case of Boston, Massachusetts, understanding the knowledge and habits of its residents regarding recycling is essential to drive meaningful change and improve the city's waste management practices.

Course Project: Design Research

Instructor: Prof. Estefania Ciliotta


Jane Effanga, Joyce Yixuan Zhong, Keira Huang, Victoria Chen


Nov - Dec 2022


Figma, Miro, Microsoft Forms,, Google sheets, Google Docs

Research Methodologies

User research, Stakeholder mapping, Affinity mapping, Service blueprint, Persona, Roleplaying, Storyboarding, Wireframing & Prototyping


While recycling programs and initiatives exist within the city of Boston, there is a pressing need to assess the level of understanding and awareness among residents regarding the materials that can be recycled and the proper methods for recycling them. This knowledge gap contributes to the inefficient utilization of recycling infrastructure and hinders the city's progress towards sustainable waste management.

Additionally, national statistics highlight a concerning trend: while a significant portion of the waste generated in the United States is recyclable, only a fraction actually ends up being recycled. This discrepancy suggests that there may be barriers preventing individuals from actively engaging in recycling efforts. By exploring the factors influencing residents' recycling behaviors and identifying potential barriers to participation, we can develop targeted strategies to increase recycling rates in Boston.


"To investigate the knowledge of recycling among Boston residents."


Our research project aims to explore the recycling knowledge and habits of Boston residents. To achieve this, we have established a set of clear objectives and specific questions that serve as the foundation of our study. This section outlines these research objectives and questions, which play a pivotal role in guiding our data collection, analysis, and the overall outcomes of our research. By addressing these objectives and questions, we strive to gain a comprehensive understanding of the current recycling landscape in Boston, while also identifying areas that require improvement

Research Objectives

Assess the familiarity of Boston residents with Boston's recycling system and its available resources and services.

Determine the level of knowledge among residents regarding what materials are recyclable and what are not within the Boston recycling system.

Explore the recycling practices of Boston residents within their homes, including the frequency and methods of recycling.

Identify the primary sources from which Boston residents obtain information and guidance on recycling practices.

Investigate the challenges and barriers faced by Boston residents in effectively participating in recycling initiatives.

Research Questions

Are Boston residents familiar with Boston’s recycling system?

Do residents know what is recyclable and what is not?

How do residents currently practice recycling within their homes, including the frequency and methods of recycling?

From which sources do Boston residents primarily obtain information and guidance on recycling practices?

What are the challenges they face with recycling? 


We used the following methodologies for collecting and analyzing our research data.

Secondary Research

System Mapping


Case Study Analysis



Journey Map


Affinity Mapping



Code Book


Collecting and gathering data

System Mapping

The system mapping methodology was instrumental in our research as it helped us explore the complexity of trash problems on a conceptual level. Through visual representations and analysis, we were able to understand how different components and relationships in the trash system interacted with one another. This allowed us to identify the key factors and dynamics that contribute to the problem.

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Secondary Research

For the secondary research phase, we conducted a thorough review of online articles related to recycling. This involved exploring various reputable sources to gather existing knowledge and insights about recycling practices, trends, and challenges. By delving into the wealth of information available online, we aimed to gain a comprehensive understanding of the current state of recycling, particularly in the context of Boston. This secondary research served as a foundation for our study, enabling us to build upon existing knowledge and identify gaps that our primary research could address.

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We conducted a probing exercise to gain deeper insights into people's motivations and attitudes toward recycling. As part of this exercise, we set up two large sheets of paper in a high-traffic area on campus. One sheet was titled "Why Do You Recycle?" and the other sheet was titled "Why Do You Not Recycle?" We encouraged individuals passing by to share their thoughts by writing down their reasons on the respective sheets. This exercise provided an opportunity for participants to express their perspectives and shed light on the factors influencing their recycling behaviors. By engaging with a diverse range of responses, we were able to gather valuable qualitative data that helped us understand the underlying motivations and barriers to recycling among individuals in our target population.


The probing activity outcome

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We conducted an online questionnaire targeting individuals who currently live or have lived in Boston. A total of 64 respondents participated in the survey, ranging in age from 18 to 55+. The survey ensured anonymous responses to encourage open and honest feedback.

Key insights and findings from the survey:

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Kahoot Game (gamification)

We employed a gamified approach, utilizing online interactive quizzes, to actively engage a total of 20 participants. They were divided into two batches, with 15 participants in the first batch and 5 participants in the second. This gamification strategy had a dual purpose: to test residents' knowledge of recycling practices and to educate them about Boston's recycling guide. By infusing an element of fun and competition into the process, our gamification strategy aimed to create an enjoyable and interactive experience that encouraged active participation and facilitated learning. This approach not only ensured an engaging environment but also allowed us to gather valuable insights from the participants.

Insights and findings from the gamification exercise:

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We conducted observations at both an apartment building and a house to gain insights into recycling practices in different residential settings. By examining the recycling behaviors and systems in place at these locations, we aimed to understand how residents in different types of housing navigate recycling processes. This allowed us to gather valuable data on factors such as recycling bin usage, sorting practices, and overall engagement with recycling initiatives. By observing these real-life scenarios, we were able to obtain a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities that residents face when it comes to recycling, contributing to a more comprehensive analysis of recycling habits in Boston.

Observation at an Apartment Building setting



  • Regular trash can be disposed of through a convenient garbage pipe on the same floor, recyclables, however, must be taken to the underground garage.

  • This separation of collection sites may discourage recycling participation.

  • Simplifying and improving access to recycling collection points within the complex can enhance recycling rates and convenience for residents.

Observation at a House setting



  • Residents use recycle bins provided by the city of Boston for sorting and collecting recyclables in their homes.

  • Residents are responsible for sorting their recyclables into the appropriate bins, ensuring proper segregation of materials.

  • On designated trash days, residents have to place their recycle bins at the curbside for collection by the city's waste management service.

  • Clear communication and awareness of the designated trash days and recycling guidelines are crucial for residents to adhere to the proper recycling schedule.

  • Providing educational resources and reminders about the benefits of recycling and the correct sorting of materials can promote active participation among residents.


We conducted interviews with eight participants, evenly distributed between males and females in their 20s and 30s. The interviews aimed to gather qualitative insights into participants' recycling routines, their sources of recycling information, their recycling habits, challenges they face, and their experiences with the gamification activity.

Interview Questions

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Identifying trends, patterns and correlations


Through thorough data analysis of surveys, interviews, and observations, we crafted two personas to encapsulate the recycling behaviors, attitudes, and needs of individuals. These personas provide valuable insights into the diverse perspectives and experiences of Boston residents, allowing us to delve into their unique recycling habits and motivations. By exploring a wide range of behaviors and attitudes, we acquire a comprehensive understanding of residents' recycling practices, thus informing future strategies and initiatives in the field.

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Journey Map

Utilizing a journey map, we visually mapped out the recycling journey of one of our personas, Jason, capturing the various touchpoints, emotions, and interactions he experiences throughout the process. This comprehensive mapping provided valuable insights into Jason's experience, highlighting pain points, challenges, and opportunities for improvement. By examining Jason's journey in detail, we gained a deeper understanding of the overall recycling experience for Boston residents.

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Code Book

The code book activity played a crucial role in analyzing the interview data collected. As a team, we individually coded all eight interviews, categorizing and organizing the data according to predefined codes. This process allowed us to systematically extract relevant quotes and identify emerging patterns and themes within the data. By analyzing the coded data, we gained valuable insights into the recycling habits, challenges, and motivations expressed by the interview participants. The code book activity facilitated a comprehensive and structured analysis of the interview data, contributing to a deeper understanding of Boston residents' perspectives and experiences with recycling.

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Affinity Mapping

Following the code book activity, we employed affinity mapping to further analyze and make sense of the coded interview data. Through affinity mapping, we grouped and organized the coded quotes and insights into meaningful clusters or themes. This process helped us identify common patterns, connections, and relationships among the data points, leading to a comprehensive understanding of the key findings and overarching themes that emerged from the interviews. The affinity mapping activity served as a valuable tool for synthesizing and visualizing the rich data, enabling us to uncover valuable insights and inform the subsequent stages of our research.

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These are the codes we identified from our code book. Each team member was responsible for extracting codes from two interviewees, which were represented by different colors. This collaborative approach allowed us to effectively manage the coding process and ensure comprehensive coverage of the data.

After retrieving the codes, we regrouped them into relevant categories to identify common themes and patterns. By organizing the codes in this manner, we aimed to uncover valuable insights that aligned with our initial focus questions. This process allowed us to analyze the data more effectively and extract meaningful findings that addressed our research objectives.

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In our research, we sought to gain insights into Boston residents' familiarity with the recycling system, their knowledge of recyclable items, their recycling habits in their homes, the sources of their recycling information, and the challenges they face with recycling. Through several data collection and data analysis methodologies, we uncovered significant findings that shed light on the current state of recycling in Boston.

Our survey results indicated that a significant portion of Boston residents, approximately 54%, are not familiar with Boston's recycling system. However, our Kahoot game activity revealed that residents have some level of knowledge about the recycling system, albeit with challenges in correctly classifying recyclable items.

Regarding residents' recycling habits in their homes, we discovered that most residents have personal sorting mechanisms separate from what their apartments or buildings provide. The majority of interview participants tend to sort their recycling immediately after use, ensuring cleanliness and emptying containers before disposal. However, we also found instances of incorrect recycling practices, largely due to the absence of proper checks and feedback systems.

When it comes to information sources, our survey showed that the majority of residents obtain recycling information online or from their apartments or buildings. However, some residents lack a specific source of information and rely on personal assumptions or previous experiences for their recycling practices.


One of the key challenges identified by residents is the lack of an easily accessible and uniform recycling sorting guide. The absence of clear instructions and inconsistent recycling systems across different countries and cities adds complexity to the recycling process, leading to confusion and inconsistency.

Based on these findings, it is evident that there is a need for improved education and awareness programs to familiarize residents with Boston's recycling system. Additionally, implementing feedback mechanisms, providing clear and accessible recycling guidelines, and streamlining recycling systems can help address the challenges faced by residents and promote more effective recycling practices.

Overall, our research provides valuable insights into the current state of recycling in Boston and highlights areas where targeted interventions can make a meaningful impact. By addressing these findings, we can work towards a more sustainable and efficient recycling system that meets the needs of Boston residents and contributes to a greener future.


In reflecting on our research findings, there are key areas for improvement and exciting possibilities to enhance recycling in Boston:

  1. Education and Awareness: Increasing residents' knowledge about Boston's recycling system is essential. Implementing educational programs and campaigns can help familiarize residents with the guidelines, what can be recycled, and how to recycle properly.

  2. Clear Recycling Guidelines: The lack of easily accessible and uniform recycling sorting guides poses a challenge. Developing a comprehensive and user-friendly guide, available online and in print, can help residents make informed recycling choices.

  3. Feedback Mechanisms: Implementing feedback systems can provide residents with information on their recycling practices. This can help identify any mistakes and encourage correct recycling behaviors.

  4. Collaboration and Standardization: Collaborating with city authorities, apartment complexes, and residents is crucial for establishing standardized recycling practices. This can involve improving infrastructure, ensuring access to recycling resources, and creating a consistent recycling experience across the city.

  5. Technological Solutions: Leveraging technology, such as mobile applications or online platforms, can provide real-time information on recycling guidelines, collection schedules, and nearby recycling centers. This can make recycling information more accessible and convenient for residents.

  6. Partnerships: Exploring partnerships with local businesses and organizations can enhance recycling initiatives. Engaging retailers, community centers, and educational institutions can promote awareness, provide resources, and foster a culture of sustainability.


By addressing these areas and implementing innovative solutions, we can create a more efficient and sustainable recycling system in Boston, benefiting both residents and the environment.

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