Research on Recycling Electronic Waste & Technology
Electronic waste is a growing concern. According to the Illinois EPA, 3,000,000 tons of electronics needed to be recycled in 2017 (US EPA). It is becoming more difficult to simply throw electronics away; for example, Illinois banned 17 different types of electronics from landfills in 2012. Because of this growing issue, it is imperative to make it easy to recycle obsolete electronics. In this project, we aimed to understand consumers’ need for a technology-based product that can help people recycle their electronic waste (e-waste) in Chicago.
Over a 10 week timeline we worked as a group of four. My main research roles included: project manager, editor, researcher, and writer. During the research process I was involved in the writing the project proposal, research review, observations, interview protocol, interviews, survey design, and presentation design.
Our project was heavily based on researching the problem before even starting to solve it. We started with research that already existed, followed by observing people trying to find information to recycle e-waste, then interviews to see how people felt about it, and followed up with surveys to further gather data.
We observed a total of three participants work through scenario to find information about e-waste recycling. We asked them to consider several factors, including transportation, cost, type of device and nearest facility. We organized our field notes using the AEIOU framework to help analyze data later.
We organized this data into four themes using an Affinity Diagram.
Information Seeking – Participants only used a few keywords in an online search, and only looked at the top three results for information,
Poor Website Organization and Design – People experienced difficulty navigating and finding information such as fees, locations, restricted items, and understanding the difference between commercial and residential services.
Recycling Threshold – Decision points in choosing when and how to recycle.
Education Foundation – Educational background for recycling e-waste was missing in all participants.
Using data gathered from our observations we developed an interview protocol. We interviewed a total of five participants in person and they had recycled e-waste before.
Our interviews began with questions regarding their background with conventional recycling (paper, plastic, compost, etc). Next we asked about their awareness of the impact of e-waste on the environment, and we found that most participants said they knew it was bad, but not specifically why. Due to this common perception of negative impact most said they would recycle, and we assume some said yes due to social pressure instead of a sense of responsibility.
We asked about their past experiences with recycling e-waste and their motivations do to so. Our final section focused on what they thought would help them recycle their e-waste more efficiently.
We open coded our interview transcripts and outlined the following themes:
The challenges of e-waste recycling – Education, convenience, trust in facility were the major barriers to recycling
Recycling prompts – Participants were either prompted within a store by employees, or strong sense of responsibility to look into recycling e-waste.
Environmental impact awareness – Everyone saw the impact as negative, but to varying degrees.
Desires for changes in recycling – Many wanted to learn more, and desires some type of additional education.
People want a chance to be able to recycle, but aren’t sure how.
People will pay for convenience, and like knowing they are helping the environment.
Technology solution should have a location based functionality that allows a user to find the closest recycling facility.
Application should inform user of their potential impact if they choose to recycle. (Potential for Gamification).
Offer easy pick up service.