Johnson & Johnson

At J&J I worked alongside a talented team of designers to create life-saving medical instruments. Check out a personal project I took on below where I redesigned the cafeteria waste environment.


If you are interested in hearing more about my professional work at J&J please reach out!

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I was talking with a member of the building's sustainability team and they proposed the idea of trying to improve our cafeteria's waste experience. The current signage differentiating waste streams for compost, recycling, and trash was completely ineffective, with most cafeteria diners tossing their waste at complete random.

The signage is small and shows little differentiation between each waste stream. The pictures meant to show what should go in each waste stream don't match the cafeteria containers and offer little help in figuring out what goes where. 

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While designing a solution, I pulled insight from over 20 past experiments exploring methods of increasing pro-environmental behavior, as well as numerous papers on guiding behavior through psychology. I observed how 101 of our employees disposed of their waste, as well as interviewed 56 employees on their experience with the current system. From there I worked with our sustainability manager of our housekeeping company to perform a waste audit where we documented an entire day's worth of waste. After developing and installing a prototype I interviewed another 60 employees on their experience with the new design. 

Secondary Research

After reviewing a number of studies and tests on encouraging environmentally pro behavior, I compiled a list of what makes someone more likely to be environmentally pro. Here are some of the most interesting ones.

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When an object is attached to someone, like a coffee cup with a name on it, its more likely to get recycled.

When an object loses its original shape, like a ripped up paper vs. a whole sheet of paper, its less likely to get recycled.

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When deciding a person considers 3 things, what will make them feel the best at that moment, what will make them feel the best later, and what is normal.

The most effective intervention is an environmental altercation. Removing someone's ability to sub-consciously act the way they were before by changing the environment will force them to break their habits and think, and once thinking the user will have to reason and will be more inclined to recycle.

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Increasing convenience of recycling increases recycling rate, people do what is easiest and too often dumping it in the trash is the easiest. 

Primary Research

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The initial primary research I did in our cafeteria was cataloging of how 101 of our employees disposed of their waste. I recorded what items each person had and in which waste stream they put it.

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Although this data clearly shows an issue with waste ending up in the wrong place, it is flawed because I was just recording what I could see. Much of the smaller waste is hidden inside the clamshells or other containers, so I knew I'd have to get solid data another way.

I also thought it would be important to figure out how much waste was being produced overall. I talked with the cafeteria manager to get a record of how many of each item they purchased per week, then weighed each item to get estimates of waste by weight. This provided great insight into what items I should pay the most attention to.

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To get more accurate data on our waste streams I worked with our housekeeping company's sustainability manager to perform a waste audit. We collected an entire days waste from the cafeteria and sorted it by category to get concrete numbers on what is ending up where. 

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The results from this research were really interesting. From the numbers, it is likely that the employees know clear plastic items are recyclable, but aren't sure what to do with everything else.

The recycleables had the highest rate of correct sorting, showing the employees understand well that clear plastic should be sorted. All other items fall under similar ratios to what would happen if thrown at random, suggesting there is absolutely no effective sorting happening beyond clear plastics.  

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There are four waste bins in the cafeteria; 2 compost, 1 trash, and 1 recycling. The waste distribution for most items averages around 10% recycling, 60% compost, and 30% trash, suggesting the employees know most items don't belong in recycling but from there aren't able to or don't care enough to differentiate compost from trash.

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The last step before I began ideation was interviewing 56 employees as I observed them dispose of their waste. Only 40% of the employees I interviewed were able to sort correctly, even with the help of the signs. Of the 32 employees who said they were sure or very sure how to sort, only 14 did so correctly. The majority of employees thought either the current signage was confusing or that people just didn't care to sort. 

Research Insights


The current signage is confusing and incorrect, the example pictures don't match what is in the cafeteria and cause more confusion than clarity. 

The whole experience has to be made easier. If its just as easy to recycle as it is to trash something then people will do it.



One of the biggest issues is knowledge around what waste can go in which waste stream. Making it extremely clear which items go where is a priority.


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Environment overlays

After I sketched out some concepts I took pictures of the locations in the cafeteria where I saw the possibility for intervention, then I took the concepts and overlayed them on the pictures to explore what the final concept might look like.


Hover over the images to see the concepts.

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These overlays explored changing the environment. On the left the addition of flaps would force people to pause and think about sorting, and on the right, the addition of cafeteria items would clarify what items go where and make it easier to sort.

This concept explored linking a design element where the employees pick up their containers and where they are disposed of, so over time the employees would learn what items go where.

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This concept explored altering the space around the waste sorting area. The use of bold graphics was meant to capture the employee's attention and make them pause and think about their waste's impact.


With only around a week and a half of my co-op remaining it was time to try to implement some of the concepts I had been working on. I took the best elements of the concepts above and created a three-part printed display that could be placed over the current waste disposal area. This prototype would allow me to test without making any permanent changes to the cafeteria, and if successful is something that could be implemented by the sustainability team after my co-op was over.

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After I installed the prototype I spent another day interviewing employees about their experience dealing with their waste. After talking with 60 interviewees I had really great feedback and results. Prior to our intervention, only 40% of employees were sorting their waste correctly. After our intervention, 86% of employees successfully sorted their waste. 


stated the prototype was an improvement. 


of employees sorted their waste correctly, compared to only 40% prior to our intervention.

A big thank you to the WeSustain team at Ethicon in NJ for their support and feedback, as well as Jared, Sam, Mike, and the other Ethicon employees who gave me their time.