An IoT trash can to encourage recycling in public spaces.

Date April - May 2019
Emerging Tech IoT, Sensors
Team Gaby Gayles, Tyler Stern
My Role UX Designer, Videographer


How might we create an engaging experience to gamify recycling?

Littering has long been a problem in our society. Unpredictable events like government shutdowns only exacerbate the situation, leading to a serious problem in both public and national parks.


This was a brief project for Interaction Design Studio at CMU— we had 3 weeks to envision an IoT solution related to civic engagement & create a video about it. Enter: Trashketball, a gamified, sensor-enabled trash can that awards players points for correctly recycling waste in Pittsburgh's public parks.


Trashketball understands what's trash vs. recycling.

Trashketball knows what you're tossing in, creating a fun, educational experience that teaches users the difference between recyclable and non-recyclable materials.

It'll encourage you to play if you miss.

The sensor-enabled trashcan will chime if a user misses, beckoning them to try again. This gentle encouragement leverages positive reinforcement to increase engagement.

Players score more points from further distances, gamifying the concept.

The best part of Trashketball is that it isn't just a single player game— a whole group of people can get involved, competing against each other to see who can score the most points from further distances.


$11.5 Billion is spent every year to clean up litter in the U.S.

Believe it or not, our nation has a serious littering problem— of the 262.4 million tons of trash produced annually, less than half ends up in a landfill. Cities like San Francisco have worked hard to mitigate this problem, aiming to reach zero waste by 2020. How might Pittsburgh be more recycling-friendly and incentivize individuals to use landfills?


We mapped out a system of sensors & actuators to communicate with users & other trash cans across parks.

IoT is a network of physical devices with software and sensors that enables objects to connect and exchange data. Because of this, it was important for us to understand the physical data being measured, and how it would play into our designs.

We envisioned that Trashketball would be a community-wide competition.

By collecting geolocation data and connecting it to points, we expanded Trashketball's reach, making it into a community competition amongst parks. Adding another layer of competition increases pride and connection to one's community.


Conveying distance through spatial grouping.

We struggled with deciding how to adequately display the relationship between distance & points to our users. We ran a few 5-second tests of these 4 different screen designs and the fourth won across the [score]board! 


Solutions don't have to be high-tech to be engaging.

During critiques, classmates suggested that we explore adding an Artificial Intelligence component to Trashketball, akin to Pokémon Go. After much consideration, we decided that AI wouldn't enhance Trashketball— it would only make initial discovery more difficult, as users would have to download an app or scan a QR code to play. Furthermore, AI is a very individual experience, and would detract from Trashketball's social focus.

Design can make heavy topics like civic engagement and environmentalism fun!

Our initial brainstorm led us to very serious solutions for civic problems. Ultimately, given our creative freedom, we decided that the space actually lacked something lighthearted, and users are more likely to use something engaging that creates psychological distance, masking the underlying goal.


"Let the beauty of what you love be what you do." –Rumi

© Molly Vierhile 2019