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Waste is an enormous problem. But recycling is the wrong solution

March 2, 2020

By Don Noorman : fastcompany – excerpt

Recycling violates every principle of human-centered design, writes user-friendly design expert Don Norman. And business culture is to blame.

I am proud to be one of the developers of what is today called human-centered design. That is design that always starts off understanding the needs, capabilities, and desires of people. It has four basic principles, all four of which are being violated by today’s recycling craze.

Recycling is broken. There’s little clarity about what can and can’t be recycled, and the rules change from one city to the next, and sometimes even within the same city. According to the World Bank, we produce 1.4 billion tons of waste a year worldwide, a figure that’s expected to increase to 2.4 billion tons by 2025. Waste is an enormous problem that needs to be addressed if we’re going to prevent the worst effects of climate change. But recycling is the wrong solution.

The principles of human-centered design—and where recycling goes wrong

Before I get into why, let’s look at the characteristics of a good design solution. Human-centered design’s four principles are:

1. Focus on the people.
2. Solve the underlying problem, not the symptoms.
3. Everything is part of a system: Design for the system.
4. Prototype ideas, test, and refine them, over and over again

Do recyclers focus on people? Obviously not. Everything about recycling lacks any attempt to make it understandable and easy for people to obey the proper rules. We find it difficult to find the rules that apply to where we live. The rules are continually changing. The rules that are applied where we live are often different from those where we work—or wherever we might be. And even when we find the rules, we cannot always understand them…

This is part one of a two-part series on the design of recycling. Read the first essay here.(more)

It refreshing to see someone write about a subject that I have been contemplating for some time. Waste can only be dealt with at by the manufactures who put the products into our environment. Only the manufacturer can eliminate waste by keeping out of the market.

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