Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Constraint Ranking at Your Disposal...

Over the last three semesters I've spent at SF State, one thing has perpetually confused me: How to throw out my garbage properly.

I try to be a conscious consumer, and I try to follow the social rules of the road and otherwise. However, I sometimes take the nerdview* of things, and this can cause problems in the day to day. Case in point. (see picture)

Do you see what I see? Where would you put your food waste? Where would you put your recyclable bottle?

Here are some of the problems I've identified with what are, to me, conflicting messages:

• The color of the bins.
• The size of the bins.
• The messaging on the bins.
• The placement of the bins.
• The accessibility (open-topped-ness) of the bins.
• The current contents of the open-topped bin.
• The presence of a liner in the bin.

For me, each of these criteria are weighted, based on my past experiences with garbage and recycling. For instance, a blue bin means recycling. But so does a closed-top bin. A large bin near a doorway means garbage, but so does an open topped bin with trash in it. Especially one with a liner. A bin labeled with "recycling" means that recyclable goods belong there. Especially when the bin also labeled with a qualifier, such as "CLEAN AND DRY ONLY."

If I were to rank these constraints, in order of importance to my categorical assessment, they'd probably look like this:
  1. Recycling bins are BLUE or GREEN, labeled, smaller than garbage bins, closed-topped, placed less prominently, and don't usually have liners.
  2. Garbage bins are not BLUE or GREEN, have liners, unmarked, larger than recycling bins, open topped, and placed prominently.

So what is to make of 2 equal sized bins, both having liners, both marked with recycling stickers, one blue and open-topped containing garbage and recyclables, one black and closed-topped with contents unknown, both placed prominently by a door?

I've taken some informal polls and the consensus is that the black, closed-topped bin, doubly marked is the recycling bin. I get this. But then why does the garbage bin have a recycling sticker on it. And why is it blue?

Further compounding the issue (or possibly disambiguating it, depending on your perspective), is the presence of nested bins, found propping the doors of many of the smaller classrooms. While the garbage bin is consistently blue, the recycling bin follows the 'smaller' constraint, but violates the 'liner' constraint. However, it can be argued that the bins in this case are reversed, as the 'recycling' bin is barely large enough to fit 2 bottles, and the 'garbage' bin is liner-less and somewhat covered by the nested bin.

What to do? All I can say is this: the situation causes undo computational strain on my feeble brain.

Also, who painstakingly sorts this stuff? Every day I see both types of bins with mixed garbage/recycling in them, probably due to peoples' confusion in processing the mixed messages. I feel for these people, meaning all of us. Common sense does not always prevail.

*Why does nerdview seem to come up often in relation to garbage?

*** UPDATE! ***

Walking on campus, I found some more confusion to share:

On the left, below, we have a small, black, liner-ed, labeled, close-topped, garbage bin sitting beside a larger, blue, unlined, unlabeled, close-topped, GARBAGE bin. And in the next photo (right), we have THREE bins (whee) that mix up the constraints in more ways I can describe here. I think you're getting the idea.

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