Trash Talkers


Trash separation is an important task to preserve resources and reduce waste. California College of the Arts wants to increase its separation rate. With a large number of international students from all over the world, CCA finds itself facing various concepts of trash sorting.

We used design thinking methodologies to educate on the process of trash separation through gamefication.

Project Outline

  • Time

    4 months

  • Scope

    Define a Target Group. Create Personas based on quantitative research. Mockup and test a solution with the target group and Design a Prototype.

  • Primary Target Group

    Educational Institution in San Francisco

  • Secondary Target Group

    Young Adults 18–26

  • Product or Service

    Waste Management Consultancy


  • Stakeholder Mapping
  • Street Interceptions
  • Student Shadowing
  • Mockup and Prototyping

My Role

  • Lead Designer
  • Branding and Designer
  • Research
  • User Testing
  • Team Lead


  • Nick Brooks
  • Sharayu Dhimate
  • Sebastian Ibler
  • Zhexin Li
  • Farzaneh Kia

How might we help educational institutions to increase their seperation rate?


Trash Talkers – User-centered waste management solutions.

The Trash Talkers exist to provide educational institutions in San Francisco with dynamic waste-management solutions. We help these institutions by saving them money on their Recology waste bills, reducing their environmental impact, and providing meaninagful engagement through the use of site-specific research, stakeholder education, strategic partnerships, and impactful design.

Example: CCA – Reframing Trash

Status QuoThe three-bin-system in San Francisco

Trash separation is well established in San Francisco. We have a three-bin-system: green is for compost, blue is for recycling, and gray is for landfill. Compost will later turn into soil, recycling will be sorted and reused, and landfill will be transferred to dump sites.  A huge challenge is that the color coding is not a unified system across America or even California.

Giving trash a personalityMeet Carl, Rita and Larry; the Trash Heroes

Many students are not aware of the color coded bins or their use-case for trash separation. Nor do they know the consequences of disposing of garbage in the wrong bins. We used personification to help students understand how to separate compost, recycling and landfill items.

Raising awarenessShowing what they like ...

Personification allowed us to give the different trash bins different attributes. By reframing the process of disposal as feeding the characters, we created empathy. For example, Carl the compost frog just likes food waste and soaked paper, Rita the Recycling bird only eats hard plastic, paper and aluminum foil. Landfill Larry eats up the rest.

Showing impact... and what happens when you feed them the wrong things

And furthermore, we demonstrate what happens when they are fed the incorrect foods.

Execution of the educational material

IntroductionOrientation Video

An introductory 2.5-minute short video will be shown to the students at orientation. It introduces the student to the core concept of the three-bin-system, the rationale why the student should care and the trash heroes.

GamificationFeed the right card to the right trash hero

We developed a card game to help volunteers reinforce the TrashTalker Heroes and the correct placement of garbage. We also found that the card game is ideal to measure playfully measure current knowledge.

SignageThe story told at the point of contact

To create consistency amongst all collateral, the new signage for the trash bins will also include the Trash Talker Heroes and their preferred foods. Each sign shows the correct trash in illustrated and written form.

PlatformOnline Platform for exhange

TrashTalkers is online. We want to support schools and their volunteers with the ongoing mission of waste reduction. This is why we launched a website where students find additional material and further information, order signage as well as share their own success stories.


The Design Thinking Methodology

We followed the design thinking process which is divided into four main questions:
What is? What if? What wows? What works?


This part of the site is still under construction, come back soon to read more!