Recycling in Savannah

How to Moti­vate Peo­ple to Cre­ate Bet­ter Recy­cling Habits through Aware­ness, Edu­ca­tion and Convenience

New Recycling Bin Design in Forsyth Park


For my final project in the Design Man­age­ment pro­gram at SCAD, I wanted to take a closer look at recy­cling in Savan­nah, GA. The pur­pose of my study was to reveal a bet­ter way to encour­age and enable recy­cling for Savan­nah res­i­dents, mak­ing it a habit­ual part of every­day life.

The first thing I did was to research the cur­rent state of recy­cling in Savan­nah. I then needed to learn what moti­vates peo­ple to change their habits. From this research, I dis­cov­ered oppor­tu­ni­ties the City of Savan­nah may have to increase recy­cling efforts by imple­ment­ing a new strat­egy and visual campaign.

After send­ing my research find­ings to the City of Savannah’s Recy­cling Coor­di­na­tor, I was asked to join their board. Since I no longer live in Savan­nah, I was unfor­tu­nately unable to take up the posi­tion, but I con­tinue to con­sult with the Recy­cling Coor­di­na­tor through email and phone cor­re­spon­dence as the city expands recy­cling efforts.

The fol­low­ing is an overview of my research, the oppor­tu­ni­ties I found, and the design solu­tions that met these needs. If you want to learn even more, you can scroll to the bot­tom of this page and flip through my entire process book.


Savan­nah recently intro­duced single-stream curb­side recy­cling to city res­i­dents in Jan­u­ary 2009. How­ever, with par­tic­i­pa­tion rates at 40%, that still leaves room for 60% of the pop­u­la­tion to be moti­vated to join the effort. There is also the oppor­tu­nity to expand recy­cling to pub­lic spaces, such as squares and parks.

In addi­tion to the many envi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits of recy­cling, recy­cled mate­ri­als are also valu­able com­modi­ties that pro­vide eco­nomic oppor­tu­ni­ties for new and exist­ing mar­kets. There is already a strong mar­ket for recy­clable mate­ri­als in Geor­gia, with more than 900 recycling-related com­pa­nies in the state.

Even with the local mar­ket demand for recy­clable mate­ri­als, it is esti­mated that each year the state of Geor­gia spends $1 mil­lion to throw away $3 mil­lion worth of recy­clables. Approx­i­mately 36% of munic­i­pal solid waste dis­posed of in GA is com­posed of com­monly recy­cled mate­ri­als. If cities like Savan­nah could pre­vent more of these recy­clables from end­ing up in the land­fill, local economies would directly ben­e­fit from both a reduc­tion in waste dis­posal costs and the growth of busi­nesses that depend on these recov­ered commodities.




My strat­egy and accom­pa­ny­ing visual cam­paign offers a unique approach to encour­ag­ing and enabling increased recy­cling in Savan­nah, GA. Gov­ern­ment, indi­vid­u­als, and busi­nesses have the oppor­tu­nity to work together to cre­ate sus­tain­able habits. Unlike tra­di­tional cam­paigns intended to sim­ply raise aware­ness about the envi­ron­men­tal impor­tance of recy­cling, this strat­egy focuses on cre­at­ing a path for last­ing change. This path for change is cre­ated by address­ing the ratio­nal and emo­tional sides of peo­ple as well as the envi­ron­ments in which we work and live.


This method­ol­ogy is based on prin­ci­ples from the book SWITCH: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip Heath & Dan Heath.


I started off with back­ground research, look­ing at the cur­rent state of recy­cling in Savan­nah and Geor­gia as well as ana­lyz­ing the Geor­gia Recy­cling Cam­paign. I then moved on to con­tex­tual research, which included park obser­va­tions, an online sur­vey, inter­views with Savan­nah Res­i­dents, the cre­ation of user per­sonas, and an inter­view with Nathaniel Glover, City of Savan­nah Recy­cling Coordinator.

Recy­cling Strategy

Recy­cling at Home

After speak­ing with Nathaniel Glover, the city’s Recy­cling Coor­di­na­tor, I learned that the city is plan­ning to imple­ment an incen­tive pro­gram in July in order to reward those who are par­tic­i­pat­ing in the pro­gram. This is a great way to add pos­i­tive rein­force­ment to the cur­rent sys­tem in order to encour­age the ini­tial change as it slowly becomes a habit. A sec­ond incentive-based approach could be a part­ner­ship with Recy­cle­Bank. With this incen­tive sys­tem, every­one who recy­cles can get rewards rather than just a few ran­domly selected participants.

One other thing the city can do when the incen­tive pro­gram begins is to mail out a progress report to show cit­i­zens how far the city has come in its recy­cling efforts in the past two years. This will keep a solu­tions focus on recy­cling rather than a prob­lems focus, and it shrinks the change while also pro­vid­ing clar­ity. Once Savan­nah res­i­dents become more famil­iar with recy­cling, the city can switch to a pay-as-you-throw trash sys­tem. This type of sys­tem encour­ages peo­ple to recy­cle more than they throw away, as well as find other ways to cut down on waste in order to reduce how many bags of trash they create.

Recy­cling Away from Home

The more a per­son is exposed to some­thing, the more they will like it. In order to rally the herd and cap­i­tal­ize on this “mere expo­sure effect” we must have more recy­cling bins in pub­lic places. This will help make recy­cling as rou­tine as throw­ing items in the trash. Cur­rently, the City of Savan­nah has no plans for plac­ing recy­cle bins in pub­lic areas because all the money has been used up from the grant they received for curb­side recy­cling. Also, they are con­cerned that peo­ple will acci­den­tally con­t­a­m­i­nate the bins due to lack of knowl­edge or aware­ness about recycling.

One way the City can cover the cost of bins and the haul­ing of mate­ri­als is by cre­at­ing a pro­gram where busi­nesses and pri­vate cit­i­zens can pay to spon­sor or adopt recy­cling bins. This can either be done by a flat fee up front or by a yearly fee. The spon­sor name or logo will appear on the bin. Spon­sors will also receive stick­ers that they can place on a win­dow or wher­ever they like to show that they are sup­port­ing the City’s recy­cling efforts. This plan allows for the City of Savan­nah to work together with busi­nesses and pri­vate cit­i­zens to cre­ate a path for change.

This strat­egy has the poten­tial to improve the ratio­nal, emo­tional and envi­ron­men­tal fac­tors affect­ing a person’s deci­sion to recy­cle. We will be cre­at­ing a shared iden­tity for res­i­dents of Savan­nah, where the com­mu­nity can come together for a local cause, both by recy­cling and by sup­port­ing those who adopt recy­cling bins. We can also add incen­tives to this out­door recy­cling strat­egy by plac­ing the Recy­cle­Bank logo and a unique reward code on each bin. This will encour­age more peo­ple to recy­cle since they can earn points towards rewards online from Recy­cle­Bank every time they go to a new bin.

The plan I devel­oped has four phases, start­ing with the launch of a web­site and 20 spon­sored bins placed in Forsyth Park. The bins will be mon­i­tored for con­t­a­m­i­na­tion, and the amount of recy­clables col­lected will be tracked. If phase one is suc­cess­ful, the city can move on to the other phases.

Outdoor Strategy Phases

Busi­ness Model Canvas

A busi­ness model describes the ratio­nale of how an orga­ni­za­tion cre­ates, deliv­ers, and cap­tures value. This busi­ness model serves as a blue­print for the new away-from-home recy­cling strategy.

Business Model Canvas

Visual Strat­egy

Con­sis­tent Visuals

Savannah Recycling Bin Concept

In order to increase recy­cling par­tic­i­pa­tion rates, the City of Savan­nah must bring more clar­ity and trans­parency to the recy­cling process through con­sis­tent graph­ics across all plat­forms. This will strengthen the over­all mes­sage and strategy.These visu­als will need to be present on all the mate­ri­als in the recy­cling edu­ca­tion com­plex, the City of Savan­nah recy­cling web­site and on all recy­cling bins. My pro­posed visual strat­egy includes a four-pronged approach aimed at pro­vid­ing clar­ity, trans­parency, value and visibility.

Recy­cling Bin Graphics

This is a design con­cept for the recy­cling bin to be used as part of the Adopt-A-Bin pro­gram. The trans­par­ent bin will reduce the risk of acci­den­tal con­t­a­m­i­na­tion because peo­ple will be able to clearly see that this is not a trash can. This new recy­cling bin will attract atten­tion with bright col­ors and inter­est­ing graph­ics. The place­ment of the top graph­ics on the bin are closer to eye level in order for peo­ple to eas­ily read the instruc­tions. The bot­tom sec­tion of the bin will show what the col­lected recy­clables can be used to cre­ate locally in Geor­gia. This will form an emo­tional con­nec­tion between peo­ple and the cause.

Savannah Recycling Ad

Cam­paign Visuals

The fol­low­ing visu­als were cre­ated to serve as a frame­work for a poten­tial new recy­cling cam­paign. This cam­paign will focus on cre­at­ing an emo­tional attach­ment between Savan­nah cit­i­zens and the cause. There will be an empha­sis on the abil­ity to make a big impact locally through small changes in habit. The focus will be on value and how it is a waste to send our resources to a land­fill. The graph­ics will include the color cod­ing from the bin visu­als that match up with the mate­r­ial cat­e­gory the adver­tise­ment is ref­er­enc­ing. The pho­tos used should always show peo­ple, and it is even bet­ter if the peo­ple shown can be multi-generational in order to rep­re­sent the future of Savannah.

Visu­als Test

A visu­als test was con­ducted in order to see if the new graph­ics are clearly com­mu­ni­cat­ing what can and can­not be recy­cled in the City of Savan­nah. This test­ing is impor­tant in order to ensure that the graph­ics will be effec­tive in pre­vent­ing con­t­a­m­i­na­tion. Par­tic­i­pants were asked to sort a bin full of items into groups for what can and can­not be recy­cled, based on the graph­ics they were shown.

For the most part, par­tic­i­pants sorted all the items cor­rectly after being shown the new graph­ics. How­ever, there was some con­fu­sion about what wax-coated card­board is and whether or not a milk car­ton can be recy­cled. This means it may be ben­e­fi­cial to put “milk car­ton” as an exam­ple in the “do not” sec­tion for cardboard.

Bin Prototype

Next Steps

Fur­ther Test­ing and Pro­to­type Development

Although some ini­tial test­ing and pro­to­typ­ing was com­pleted with the new bin design and graph­ics, more con­tex­tual research must be done in order to ensure clar­ity of com­mu­ni­ca­tions. We want to make cer­tain that con­t­a­m­i­nants will not acci­den­tally make it into a bin because the graph­ics are not clear to everyone.

The City of Savan­nah is con­sid­er­ing using parts of my strat­egy as they move for­ward with involv­ing busi­nesses in recy­cling efforts. I con­tinue to con­sult with the Recy­cling Board, and I am try­ing to cre­ate more oppor­tu­ni­ties for other SCAD stu­dents to work with the City of Savan­nah so they can make a dif­fer­ence in the community.

For more infor­ma­tion, please feel free to flip through my process book:

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  1. […] many plants can only recy­cle cer­tain plas­tics, peo­ple are often con­fused about what they can and can’t recy­cle. Hope­fully this tech­nol­ogy will even­tu­ally help to recover and recy­cle more plas­tics around the […]

  2. […] Info­graphic: Why Don’t Amer­i­cans Recycle?.Just half of Amer­i­cans recy­cle daily, and 13 per­cent don’t recy­cle at all. Most peo­ple rec­og­nize the ben­e­fits of recy­cling, but they’re often not sure which items can be recy­cled and find the process incon­ve­nient and time-consuming (a topic of per­sonal inter­est to me). […]

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