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City of Beaverton: User Testing for Effective Waste Signage


The City of Beaverton, OR set a goal of 60% waste diversion in city-owned buildings as part of their auditing participation with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Waste Reduction Pilot. At the same time Metro – the Portland area’s regional government – was leading a project to create regionally consistent bin decals and enclosure signage for multifamily and mixed-use commercial properties. Clear and engaging signage is one best practice utilized to decrease recycling contamination and increase waste diversion and was identified as an action item in the Metro 2030 Regional Waste Plan. Beaverton is a collaborating partner on this regional decal project.

The project was led by Metro staff with collaborating partners that involved multiple stakeholders including local governments, waste hauling companies, communications agencies, nonprofits and community-based organizations. The project is ongoing with implementation forthcoming.

The design process took about 12 months and utilized some pre-determined best practices in their initial designs for the signage:

  • Simple messaging, leading with the disposal icon for helpful wayfinding.
  • Images of individual items that were descriptive and showed context. For example, using an image of a single glass bottle, as opposed to a group image of multiple glass items.
  • Images of economically cost-effective products (avoiding products from specialty stores and/or private labels).
  • Consistency in message, layout, and size of sign elements.
  • Strong, accessible typefaces that are easy to read.
  • High-contrast, ADA-compliant color schemes that use photos/icons to compliment the colors.
  • Designs accessible across age, language, and cultural barriers.
  • Brief descriptions written in the five most common languages spoken in the region: English, Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese, and Simplified Chinese.
  • Avoiding logos or contact information, if possible.

The project team recruited a diverse group of multifamily residents to complete the user testing as well as partnered with community-based organizations for consultation. After developing two signage prototypes, residents provided feedback via printed surveys and over the phone. Participants were asked to comment on the following:

  • Layout preference.
  • Wording and visual comprehension.
  • Images showing accepted items vs. showing accepted and unaccepted items.
  • Garbage decals with and without images of contaminating items commonly found in recycling streams.
  • Translation review in all five languages.

The team utilized a short “quiz” to determine the effectiveness of the signage, asking participants questions like “which bin does a takeout container go into?” and “which bin does the plastic lid go into?”

Results showed that the best design contained the following features:

  • Individual colorful photographs for items that are both accepted and not accepted
  • Images included in garbage decal and enclosure signage
  • Brief wording for items that are both accepted and not accepted