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Mobile App Concept: Recycling Tracker

Cultivar is an educational app that rewards students at the University of Toronto for practicing good recycling habits.


Cultivar provides users with instant feedback on their actions, informing them if they recycled correctly. Students are motivated to log their recycling through the implementation of a rewards system, which can be converted to the on-campus currency.  To encourage accountability and teamwork, users can form teams to compete in recycling challenges, and view stats associated with community milestones and environmental impact.  By combining all of these elements into our app, our team provides a platform for users to feel good and receive tangible rewards for positive environmental habits. This, in turn, changes their behavior and fosters awareness of a critical environmental issue.


My Role

My role was not confined to any specific area or task. All four of us on team Cultivar were involved in every part of the design process. My largest responsibility however was prototyping- I developed initial sketches, some paper prototypes, spearheaded the implementation of our medium fidelity prototype, and developed our logo. I was also closely involved in the research process, and the analysis and synthesis of our collected data.

Software Used

  • Google Slides

  • Google Forms

  • Figma

  • Balsamiq

  • Illustrator

Deliverables & Artifacts

  • To-be scenario

  • Hills statements

  • Prototype: Initial sketches

  • Paper prototype

  • Lean evaluation: Paper prototype

  • Medium fidelity prototype

  • Summative evaluation of medium fidelity prototype

  • Project rundown & project statement

  • Business and & assumptions

  • Research findings summary

  • Persona

  • Empathy map

  • As-is scenario

  • Needs statements

  • Big ideas & prioritization grid

The Problem

The current state of the environment is worrying, meaning everyone who lives on this planet has a personal responsibility to develop and maintain sustainable habits throughout all aspects of their lives. Sustainable living is not simple. However, making small, conscious decisions every day can carry a significant impact.

We looked at the University of Toronto, and found that despite the university’s best efforts to implement descriptive labels and raise awareness, students still were unable to recycle their waste correctly. If every student took the time to recycle properly, even while just on the St. George campus, hundreds of tonnes of waste will be diverted from landfills.    

Design Process

User Research

Our data collection protocol for our primary research involved a survey and interviews with representative users. I was in charge of generating the survey, interviewing a user, and developing an affinity diagram from our qualitative interview data and summarizing the results. Our initial idea involved a function that allowed users to “shame” each other if they witnessed them practicing unsustainable behaviors.  At the time we thought this idea was brilliant, as it encouraged accountability and motivated users to think about their actions. But, after synthesizing our primary research we found that this was widely criticized by our research participants.

“If there’s an option in front of me to be sustainable I’ll take it, but if it isn’t convenient for me I won’t do it.”

Other insights gained from primary research include users’ attitudes towards recycling as inconvenient and confusing. 


From our research, we developed Julia, our persona, an empathy map, and an as-is scenario.

Requirements Analysis

We held onto that “inconvenient and confusing” attitude in the development of Julia’s needs, which corresponded to her struggle with recycling correctly while living on campus at UofT.

We also brainstormed big ideas for the functionality of our app, and after voting and placing them on a prioritization grid, we decided that real time feedback and real-world rewards were the most impactful and feasible ideas we generated.

With our two big ideas- instant feedback and rewards- in mind, we generated a to-be scenario and hills statements to inform our design going forward.


Research completed and our solution defined, we moved onto prototyping a minimal viable product for the hill we wanted to focus on: “Julia can get feedback on her recycling habits in real time”. We began with rough sketches on whiteboards to block out the screens and key elements, then, we moved onto generating paper prototypes focusing on the “happy path”.

After working through a handful of paper versions of our product, we developed a finalized paper prototype


With our paper prototype in hand we conducted guerrilla usability testing, receiving feedback from representative users around Robarts Library at the University of Toronto.  This feedback was key in the development of our medium fidelity prototype.

Using Figma, I began digitizing the screens associated with the recycling process. After additional feedback from some industry professionals, we made some slight aesthetic changes and included screens for other aspects of our app such as leaderboards, rewards and community statistics.

QR Code Scanner.png
QR Code.png
Recycling_Sleeve Pt 1.png

A key element to our design in multiple iterations was our “drag and drop” function. This had users breaking items (such as a coffee cup) into multiple pieces, and dragging those pieces to their corresponding bin. This was our way of linking the system to the real world- making the process intentional and thought provoking to better influence behavior long term.   

Considerations for Cultivar V2

Key insights gained from usability testing and interviews included:​

  • Minor issues with convenience and clarity are present

  • Reconsider the drag and drop function

Due to the feedback we received during usability testing and interviews, we have identified changes to  implement in future iterations of Cultivar.   

To ease navigation between functions, we are removing the home screen and instead implementing a global navigation menu.

To maintain a minimalist aesthetic and prevent users from being bombarded with data, we will reconsider how information is displayed by designing for interactions like scrolling, expanding, and long pressing.

The drag and drop “testing” aspect of our app is cumbersome for users. Considering alternative options that are easier and faster to use will be beneficial. One such solution would be the inclusion of augmented reality.


Next Steps and Extensibility 

This project was a largely experimental creation- as my team and I attempted to solve a widespread and multifaceted problem.  Throughout every stage of the design, I maintained the attitude that I saw this project going farther beyond our project scope- and pushed for streamlining of the recycling process upon development of our prototype. 


My initial pitch to my team involved an environmental habit tracker utilizing augmented reality, and I believe this project can be vastly improved upon with the use of this technology.  With AR and machine learning, Cultivar could use the phone’s camera to scan an item, then provide a real time overlay onto the camera feed that depicts where items should be disposed.

Additionally, with the use of location-based technology, we could eventually expand upon our idea being limited to the University of Toronto and have Cultivar detect a user’s location, and change the overlay on a scanned bin according to that data.  This would address one of the central issues people face when recycling- protocols are different depending on where you are. Extending that idea even further, Cultivar could also use location technology to generate recycling maps. These maps can aid in the problem of convenience by providing bin locations along a user’s route, and suggestions of where specific items can be recycled.

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