Research DC citizen's recycling habits and propose a solution for the city to invest in a circular economy process.

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My Role

User Research, Data Analysis, Solution Iteration, Client Presentation

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Field Study, Survey, Storyboards, Affinity Map, Journey Map

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3 months


To accelerate DC citizens’ participation in a circular economy focusing on the lifecycle of electronics.

Discovery + Research

Starting from scratch, I read literature regarding a circular economy, familiarizing myself to the topic and how various companies have embraced this practice into their business model. I also held several user interviews to understand various DC citizens’ habits around recycling, focusing on their practice with outdated, personal electronic devices they still have in their possession. To gain more of a spread from the data, I created and distributed a survey.

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Field Study

With this mission in mind, I did a field study at the Ft. Totten Transfer Station in DC to investigate where Wasingtonians need to go to recycle larger household items and their electronics. Were there barriers? Where was the “duct tape” in this process? For numerous reasons, the transfer station was a sensory overload in a negative way with the harsh smell  of trash and confusing directions with no signage anywhere.


Compiling all of the research, my team and I developed a persona, Alex, and then created a journey map with the intent of honing in on one bright spot where we could have an impact with a solution that we created.

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I’m not sure how to recycle or donate it without exposing my private information.
— Alex
My old phone is sitting in a drawer next to my bed. If my current phone breaks I can at least charge the old one and use it as a stopgap. So I have a mobile device to connect to my email, send Facebook messages, stuff like that.
— Alex

Journey Map

Looking at Alex’s journey map, the most exciting part of owning an electronic is shopping for a new one. After she gets the new one, doubts and questions start to drag her mood down.

Alex feels attached to her old phone because it once contained important pictures, but since she backed up data to the cloud, she knows those pictures are safe. Her old phone also cost about $800 so she thinks that it’s still probably worth some money. She's heard that you can recycle electronics at the Ft. Totten Transfer Station, but wonders if her sensitive data would get leaked. Looking toward the end of her journey, there are so many factors to consider that she puts the old phone in The Drawer to figure out a solution later. Despite occasional pangs of guilt, her apathy remains.

Journey map displaying the persona's journey through the process of buying a new phone and getting rid of the old one.

Journey map displaying the persona's journey through the process of buying a new phone and getting rid of the old one.

Design Process

Focusing on the opportunity that we see in The Drawer, our solution needed to be:

  1. Convenient
  2. Wipe user data completely
  3. Make the user feel good about their choice

In order to break the decision-making apathy, our solution engaged the user’s emotions and supply a feeling of joy.


With a tight time constraint of one week, I selected one assumption to prototype and test. I created a storyboard to test the assumption that channel partners would lend to the validation of the initial idea of leasing phones to small businesses.

This assumption in and of itself was weak, but when I tested it on users, I found that it had merit as well. During an ideation session with my team, we reviewed the various assumptions that we each had tested on our own and worked to evolve our original solution.

Client Proposal

Envisioning the “Alex” in our community, our solution is a corporate social responsibility initiative that partners with major retailers and shipping services to create a donation pipeline for used electronics in the DC area. This combines the previous assumption I tested, buoyed by more structure. With that, we see the flow of electronic devices going through 4 major cycles.

  1. Fully functioning devices would be sent to an organization that would distribute them to people in need of phones or internet connection.
  2. Devices with limited functionality would be used as calculators, cameras, or recording devices.
  3. Nonfunctional devices would be taken apart and repurposed for new tech creations and educational purposes.
  4. Final stage, we solicit the old devices and return them to the manufacturers where they can be taken apart for scrap and valuable attributes can be recovered for new devices.
Circular flow of phones going through 3 major cycles

Circular flow of phones going through 3 major cycles


We know that The Drawer is the enemy of the circular economy. It’s where momentum dies. We are the only initiative that is trying to create a new way of consumption. We want to change the consumer’s mindset so that when they buy a new piece of technology, they are already conscious of where it will go when they get rid of it. We are looking to eliminate The Drawer altogether.