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Waste Management

Product Service System (PSS) approach

Pragmatic approach to explore opportunities for design interventions aiming to solve the problems due to ill management of domestic waste. This is a summary of the Thesis submitted as a part of the completion of the B.Des degree at IIT Guwahati.

Waste management is a critical issue for developing countries like India. The government can keep checks on bulk waste producers by imposing policies but household waste goes unregulated. Household operations are a cultural matter and hence cannot be effectively solved by political intervention and imposing policies.

This project aims at

- Understanding the system chain of waste from generation to management plants.

- Exploring successful waste management system and their strengths

- Pinpoint intervention areas

- Propose a system compatible solution


Working on the thesis

In the final year of my Bachelor's, we were expected to complete a long project as a part of our thesis using the appropriate design methodologies learnt. The thesis required us to explore and find out a real-world problem, validate the problem and pitch it to our professors. A guide was assigned on the approval of proceeding with the problem. The thesis continued under the guidance of the assigned professor as we tackled the identified problem with design interventions.

After in-depth analysis, I chose to intervene in the area of Waste management.

Project journey

Understanding the problem

Waste system chain map

Countries Analysed:


  1. Asian (cultural similarity)

  2. Population
    (scalable waste management)

Understanding the problem

Upscaling chains in India:


  1. Problems in India

  2. Landfills are running out of space

  3. 50% municipality expenses on waste management

  4. Almost 80% of which is on waste collection

  5. Retrieving collection fees is difficult

  6. Unsatisfactory domestic waste collection services

  7. Low socio-economic standards of waste collection

  8. Improper management resulting in leachate and methane emissions

Narrowing down to high impact areas

Selection criteria:

  • Highest impact with the least effort

  • Unchecked environment- domestic micro-management

  • Relatively untouched area

Businesses analysed:​

Literature study

Following are 3 of the several papers analysed on organic waste management with a summary of insight that helped shape the journey ahead 

Domestic artefacts: sustainability in the context of Indian middle class

The research talks about frugal approaches used to give an afterlife to domestic products and the role of belief associated with products


Technology and Tradition clash in India

This paper sheds light on how successful technology of other countries failed in India due to misalignment with the culture and systems

Household and Technologies: A socio-historical analysis of two cultures

The author compares use of technologies in the easter and western world and speaks about possible primary and secondary adverse effects of technology on society

Photo study

Photo study as a research method helped gain insights into the kitchen of the selected demography

  • Waste is not segregated due to space constraints, space division and municipality collection methods

  • Waste receives an attitude of ‘getting rid’

  • Waste is curated in a temporary collector

  • Organic waste is discarded immediately to avoid insects and bad odour

  • Changing lifestyle makes it less valuable to invest time in waste segregation

  • Users would like having a beautiful dustbin, but not spend on it

  • Dustbins are a least priority product to invest in

SME Collaboration

To understand domestic systems better, I collaborated with interior designers(SMEs) and engaged with them in decisions for designing domestic interiors. The insights were as follows-

  • Footwear storage, waste storage, sanitary hygiene in washrooms are left to users to decide and are not in the design plan

  • Interior design and architecture studies do not have these topics as reported by SMEs

  • There is a pressure of delivering fast and hence templates are created to meet deadlines and not much thought is given on details.

Contextual user interview

The following insights were obtained from contextual interviews with families based on the AEIOU framework

  • Houses are systems governed by the mutual agreement of the elders.

  • Products have a contextual use. It is normal to find multiple sets of the same products used in a different context (eg: daily use crockery vs. guest use crockery)

  • Products are representations of status and have meanings (eg- brass utensils are sacred while stainless steel is not. Inherited clothes are reused while others generally become rags)

  • Users find it difficult to articulate the meaning of culture although they seem clear with the understanding of the same

Synthesising research


  • Composting is the only viable processing of organic waste

  • Organic waste creates problem when curated. It needs to be processed as soon as possible

  • Composting in apartments is not viable as if the composting goes wrong, it becomes troublesome

  • Consistent quality supply is a business challenge

  • Business collaboration to mitigate risks

  • Knowledge-base can be used as s service

  • Human labour is costly in organised sector

  • Services are a must for product success


  • Removal of wet-waste from other waste increases the overall chances of segregation for recycling

  • Organic waste is best processed closer to the source

  • Organic waste needs to be discarded regularly for maintaining hygiene

  • Higher frequency in collection increases fee rates

  • Inefficiency in current waste segregation is due to lack of motivation and value for users

Design problem statement

Analysing User tasks

Ideation: Service approach

Business Model Canvas (Service-based)

Product in a Service System

“Design a incentive-based solution enabling users to segregate organic waste without a major behaviour change”

The task of waste generation was targeted to explore ways for segregation. Hierarchical Task Analysis (HTA) was performed to understand the process

Waste curated under wet waste included Leftovers, fruit peels, vegetables, egg shells and packages

Problems identified:

  • Lack of dedicated curation place

  • Reluctance in paying for garbage collection

  • Poor judgement of waste generation volume

  • Cleaning the trash bin is a necessity

  • There are no benefits from waste generated

Potential areas of intervention

  • Temporary waste collector

  • Reduction in the number of steps

  • Waste Volume reductions

  • Managing odor

  • Cleanliness and hygiene of waste bins

  • Convenience of curation

  • Segregation from small plastic waste

  • Aesthetics

Service Systems

To keep the behavioural change to a minimum and have a resilient solution, a service approach was adopted. These were mostly inspired by the current(2019) process in place and new services made available in the markets.

Subscription service

Users pay a deposit for the bin which marks a commitment to curate wet waste. Points are rewarded to users for every non-contaminated curation. Points can be redeemed against access to the herb garden.

Product feature

Vacuum in the product allows users to curate waste over 7 days without rotting. Lower frequency of collection results in a lower net cost of waste collection. All the stackable & foldable pods are collected and replenished with new ones by the NGOs. Thus, users have an elegant bin to store waste without owning the bins or having the hassle of cleaning it. Users enjoy the lower cost of waste collection with an additional rewarding sense of environmental responsibility.

Product requirements - Curation Product

Product Development- Curator

Idea generation


Product Development- Vacuum base

Concept Proposition


  • Seamless stacking for the perception of a modular product as a whole.

  • Indian visuals to fit home aesthetics

  • Nature-based forms

  • Simple designs which are easy to clean

  • Structurally sturdy


The silicone material allows the side panels to collapse inside and fold like a book to reduce the volume of space occupied. This results in less storage space.


The pods are stackable. The rubber rim allows the stacking to be air-tight.

Low air pressure

The one-way valves connected to the vacuuming base allow to create a vacuum-like environment when the pod is stacked. This reduces the rate of decomposition of waste, consequently, prevents rotting.

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