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Rebranding recycling in New York City

In 2012 I was hired by the NYC Department of Sanitation (DSNY) to rebrand their recycling and waste reduction programs, and create new materials to inform the public about a dramatic expansion in plastics recycling (in the year that I worked for DSNY, we moved from only recycling plastic bottles to recycling all rigid plastic items). 

Recycling checklist, before and after:


When municipal recycling was introduced in NYC in 1989, recycling was a novel concept and needed a great deal of explanation. By the time I was hired in 2012, recycling had become less novel and recycling educational materials had become cluttered with too much information.

The introduction of all-plastics recycling presented an opportunity to simplify and streamline the materials presented to the public. Consumers still needed to know, at a glance, which items could be recycled, but they no longer needed the concept of recycling explained to them. 

The cartoon recycling bin characters used in previous designs had established green as the color for paper/cardboard recycling, and blue as the color for metal/glass/plastic recycling. In my design, I created a hierarchy of information by using those colors to divide the page, eliminating unneeded text, and moving the less essential explanations about non-recyclable trash to the bottom of the card. The new, less text-heavy checklist was created with non-English-speaking New Yorkers in mind and was designed to work in concert with other recycling collateral described below. 


NYC Recycles logo, before and after:

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I also tried to eliminate non-essential text when redesigning the NYC Recycles logo to comply with City of New York brand guidelines. While DSNY still encouraged New Yorkers to reduce and reuse, our call to action on almost every printed item was recycling. By shifting the focus of the logo from the letters "RRR" to the word "Recycles", we were able to more clearly deliver our message. 


Decals and posters

While the expansion of recyclable plastic required major changes to the DSNY Recycling website, and 311 scripts, the most important teaching tools we created were print items that went directly on to recycling bins, trash cans, and the walls of trash collection areas in apartment buildings throughout the city. 

Here are some of the decals and posters I designed and illustrated for DSNY: 


Public recycling bins, before and after:

More than 100,000 of the public space recycling bins I designed while at DSNY are still on the streets today.

I created a mockup design for the three bins below and worked with the purchasing department to send the design out to bid for fabrication. Each bin employs a custom slot for a specific material — a small hole for bottles, a large hole for refuse, and a slot for paper recycling. The bins also include a hinged door so that DSNY employees can remove contents without lifting. The bin lids follow the color pattern of the decal graphics, and employ simple one-color graphics to show users what items can be recycled.

Big-Belly Solar Compactors
I also created graphics for solar powered Big-Belly compactor receptacles placed in 75 locations in Midtown Manhattan. 


Web and presentation graphics

I created a series of illustrations of different recycling-room setups for use online and in Apartment Building Recycling Initiative (ABRI) presentations. These graphics were used as teaching tools in multiple languages when DSNY staff would meet with large-building supers, or present webinars. 



While at DSNY I created more than 200 illustrations of different recyclable and non-recyclable items. These images were used on decals, posters, website explanation pages, and in an NYC Recycles sorting game app for children. Here are just a few of the items:

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