Lucerne waste mgmt

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Unless you’re familiar with the local language, it isn’t immediately apparent which container holds what, or even that these containers are for holding waste in the first place. A closer look around them reveals small traces of the material they’re designed to hold – small chips of colored glass, for instance. From the color-coded labeling written in clear, bold font to the set of “whiskers” around the opening of each container to keep out curious hands, these are fairly well-designed and beautiful pieces of urban infrastructure compared to many of the other places I’ve been. Comparing a place like Lucerne’s approach to that of Oslo, Norway, London, England, and rural China, what stands out? In your context what parts of sorting or categorizing your waste (if any) are left to you, and which is delegated to your context’s urban service of waste removal? Why is that?

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As a design strategist, a lot of my job focuses upon how to redesign products and services in ways that make them “better” (hopefully for all people). Despite that (and often as an important preceding step to designing for change), an equally important exercise is understanding why things currently are the way they are, and what sorts of forces of inertia (whether technological, social/governmental, economic, or otherwise) are keeping them in place.

More broadly, looking at how Lucerne categorizes and contains its waste, what does that tell us about the context? Consider the relative degrees of:

Technological inertia:*
The specialized containers in the recycling vehicles that come to retrieve this waste daily/weekly; the (presumably separate) machines and work streams in Lucerne’s recycling facilities that process these individual kinds of waste (and the maintenance they require);

Socio-cultural inertia:*
the belief in the importance of properly categorizing waste, and the strength of the financial or social punishment of not recycling; the belief that it matters and ultimately does some benefit to either themselves or others; the belief that this is an optimal way to process and dispose of waste from the perspective of public/environmental/spatial costs of this setup – such as the space it takes up on sidewalks that could be used for other things;

Economic inertia:*
The training required to get waste collectors of sufficient skill and dedication to pursuing the processing of these multiple streams of recycling; compensating waste collectors (through citizens’ taxes) accordingly for their time spent working; the investment in so many differentiated types of waste collection across the city (uncertain how many of these “clusters” there are) and the gained/lost revenue from using the sidewalk in this way;

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The ubiquity and everyday-ness of these waste disposal practices likely render them practically “invisible” to the people who engage in them on a daily basis – so much a part of their daily routine that they almost dissolve into them. The instinctual way citizens of Lucerne dispose of waste (or do many of the activities that make up their daily lives) makes it easy to overlook the immense effort required to put in place the nested technological, socio-cultural, and economic systems that direct their “doing” of the activity in the given way.

*idea borrowed liberally from Lucy Kimbell’s excellent “The Service Innovation Handbook”, and from the notion of Social Practice Theory unpacked therein

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