Post B — Interpreting data sets

Hello again.

A key method for my own waste audit in part A, was the collection of data from a range of sources. In collecting waste data from a range of sources, I was able to create a standard, or mean waste stream, that was representative of an age group or particular demographic. I have imagined this method of aggregating data being conducted on a national scale — where entire communities and regions are analysed and compared in terms of their waste disposal movements. This could give governing bodies a greater understanding of the way in which individuals and communities are approaching waste, and thus drive strategy and state/national reform. 

One such collection of data, at a state level, is conducted by the The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA), which coordinates annual council surveys on the waste and recyclables collected from households. The resulting reports, outline the domestic waste generation and recycling performance of local council kerbside, drop-off and clean-up services across NSW. The EPA uses data provided by councils who sort through the waste, to calculate overall waste generation and resource recovery rates for each local government area (NSW EPA 2015).

Image: Pittwater waste collection bins audited by the EPA

Some key findings from the  2012-2013 report found that:

The average NSW household generated 23.6 kg of waste a week, consisting of 5.1 kg of recyclables, 5.3 kg of food and garden organics and 11.7 kg of landfill waste.
– The average person in NSW generated 9.2 kg of waste a week, down from 9.4 kg the previous year
– NSW households generated a total of 3.47 million tonnes of waste, sending 2.02 million tonnes to landfill and recycling the remaining 1.45 million tonnes.
– The overall recycling rate for household waste dropped slightly to 46.5 percent, compared to 47 per cent in 2011/12.

One could certainly see how these data sets may prove useful from a pro-environment agenda — such as the Wealth for Waste initiative. Within the Wealth for Waste initiative, we are  approaching the issue of organic matter by separating waste on site at UTS. This is one approach — and a good one. The aggregated data could also raise other questions however — such as; what if the organic matter was already separated? Perhaps students and staff could become more active in their own waste disposal methods? And in a residential context — what if the organic matter instead entered household compost systems as a result of a change in the behaviour of home owners across NSW?

Linda Steg and Charles Vlek of the University of Groningen, Netherlands, offer that environmental issues are rooted in human behaviour, and “thus can be managed by changing the relevant behaviour so as to reduce its environmental impacts”
(Steg & Vlek 2009 p. 2). This only amplifies the role of the design community. Instead of approaching waste at its ends — designerly strategies must be implemented in order to shape the social condition of organic waste. The designer finds him/herself central to education, to art, and to culture — all means of shaping understandings and behaviours of the public — and in turn — their waste habits.

One such design movement that strives to bring about changes in behaviours through design and education, is the the ‘Green Resource Efficiency Program’ (REP) of Harvard University in Massachusetts. The program consists of 19 students of Harvard, who aim to bring about change by educating their peers on such issues as energy, waste, water and food. The group do so through a range of community-building, on-campus events and campaigns (Harvard 2015). Please enjoy this short video that showcases some of the great design work by REP. 


Harvard University 2015, Environmental awareness grows from peer to peer, Massachusetts, viewed 8 June 2016, <>.

NSW Environmental Protection Authority 2015, Data: local council waste and resource recovery, Sydney, viewed 6 June 2016, <>.

Steg, L. & Vlek, C. 2009, “Encouraging pro-environmental behaviour: An integrative review and research agenda”, Journal of Environmental Psychology, vol. 29, no. 3, pp. 309-317.


One thought on “Post B — Interpreting data sets”

  1. I like the way you are using data facts from the NSW 2012-13 report to reflect on the contributes of waste audits. And I agree on the point that conducting a waste audit is an effective way to collect vast information from a range of sources.


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