Highlighted Skills:

To reframe recycling as a fun, collective activity.

Teach consumers to identify parallel value in plastic items from everyday use. 

Provide immediate feedback about correct or incorrect recycling practices.


Recycling Knowledge

Asset 98mdpi.png
logo largemdpi.png

Game + Experiment

by Steve Love

cloud 1mdpi.png


A simple sorting game where players must categorize virtual items into recycle or trash.


Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, Premiere Pro, After Effects, XD

Unity Software | C# Scripting

PSPP Statistic Software

Design Thinking, Concept Development, Research


My Approach to Design:

Design Priorities.png

Deciding what aspect of the deep-rooted problem to address was determined by a set of overlapping priorities.

Big Problems:

Plastic pollution is a global issue.

Asset 12mdpi.png

The notion of "recycling" enables more plastic to be produced.

Recycling infrastructure rarely supports single-use plastics.

Consumers get confused by what can and cannot be recycled.

User Types:

Families at the Grocery Store (and beyond)


Parents want to teach their kids healthy habits and monitor what they are watching/playing. They usually download and start a game with their pre-literate kids to show them how it works.

Rarely prioritize sustainability over cost.

They also want to run errands without incidents or temper tantrums, so they use distraction devices.

They hold the purchasing power, but their children have some say in what they buy.


Prioritize visual appeal of grocery items in their line of sight. Parents will typically try to distract their kids or avoid a section of the grocery store that will provoke unwanted reactions.

Younger generations are exposed to progressive programming and therefore more conditioned to care about the environment.

Their eating preferences will influence what parents purchase.

Grocery Stores

Benefit from customer loyalty.

Complete control over special offers and rewards programs.


Economically benefit from sustainable practices.

Respond to consumer demand.

Thesis Research:

"The intention driving this research is to lay the foundation for technical nutrients (plastics) to be maintained within a technosphere (McDonough, 2013). Research conducted from a Pragmatic worldview acknowledges social, historical, political, and other holistic contexts. In Houston, public perception of plastics as waste is reinforced by a recycling system that groups valuable and waste materials together; consequently, consumers are inclined to recycle any and everything that bears the chasing arrows logo (or Resin Identification Code). The resulting phenomenon is known as aspirational recycling, or 'wish-cycling.' Without incentive to differentiate recyclables, awareness is unlikely to increase. Consumers don’t have to distinguish between materials they discard. Furthermore, no immediate feedback systems exist to inform aspirational recyclers of an error, which allows the same mistake to be repeated in perpetuity, to the point it becomes practice for that individual. This issue is not exclusive to Houston, as recycling systems across the country and globe struggle to divert non-recyclable waste from collection streams."

Research will be published and ready for download soon.

Download the Research Paper


Jump to >

"Players will learn to differentiate plastics if value is ascribed by grade."


Jump to >


Phase I

Discovering where and how plastic pollution occurs. 


Designing The Game

Jump to >

Phase II


Designing a tool as a method for empirical data collection + knowledge testing.


Jump to >

Phase III


Finalizing and launching the virtual game for further experimentation.


If recycling is reimagined as a competitive game, players will learn to differentiate plastics when value is ascribed by grade.


Asset 3mdpi.png



  1. Discover when consumers disregard or value plastic.

  2. Test biases about disposability v. recyclability.

  3. Imbue items seen as “waste” with perceived value.

  4. Encourage consumers to consider “waste” beyond an item’s useful lifespan.

  5. Feed a competitive atmosphere around recycling.


Phase I

Discovering where and how plastic pollution occurs. 

Mixed Methods Research:

Literature Review



Research Questions:

  1. How do people feel about recycling and what causes them to feel the way they do?

  2. How can recycling be beautiful?

  3. What drives change in plastic and recycling industries?

  4. Do consumers associate their role in plastic pollution?

  5. How do individuals feel about their consumption dependencies and power to make a difference?

Findings from Investigation:

heb logo.png
kroger lgo.png

Interviews with professionals in the grocery industry and city sanitation providers informed key choices in research rollout.

mrf tour.jpg

Grocery stores are a leader in food-grade plastic packaging designed for single-use disposal.

Touring a MRF (Material Recovery Facility) managed by Waste Management provided real-world context for the ongoing literature review.

Literature from various sources with differing perspectives on the issues plaguing global waste infrastructure agreed that consumer engagement matters.

Non-recyclable plastics contaminate what is usable.

(User Error or "Wish-cycling")

Houston's single-stream recycling program encourages people to put any and everything in the recycling bin. But too many non-recyclable items will cause delays by clogging machinery, slowing sorting, and add to trash that must be removed from the sorting facility.

Asset 81mdpi.png
coffee cup.png
Asset 81mdpi.png
Asset 81mdpi.png
Asset 5mdpi.png

Many plastics can be recycled, but aren't.


Asset 124mdpi.png

A leading cause of contamination is human error, or aspirational recycling.

Misperceptions about plastic are perpetuated by recycling signage.

Consumers often try to recycle non-recyclables because they want to be environmentally friendly.

The familiar "chasing arrows" logo only indicates material composition, but doesn't guarantee that item is recyclable.

Which materials can be recycled will vary depending on localized infrastructure.

Infrastructure can vary widely by zip code.


Leveraging specials and placement of items throughout a grocery store has been proven to affect consumer behavior. A popular example is placing name brand sweet cereals with attention-grabbing mascots at eye level of a toddler passing by in a cart.

Asset 22mdpi.png

People of all age groups are using their phones in the grocery shopping setting.

The consumer sphere is a space where a collective interest is already captive.

Market in Context:

Grocery Stores

Grocery chains often run many rewards programs to engage customer loyalty. In the COVID era, the importance of digital marketing has proven invaluable.

When a more informed customer base complies with recycling rules, grocery stores can collect and resell post consumer food grade plastics.

The virtual format is easily alternated to accommodate that store's graphics and mascot themes.

Leadership in community-oriented strategic cleanup efforts are excellent PR.


In the game, consumers are exposed to products from brands that want to sell their goods.

Packaging that is fully recyclable is reinforced with positive affirmation in the form of feedback, thus the product is impressed as "good" to the player. Brands that are featured may want to use recyclable materials for positive impressions on the consumer.

Data gathered from the game can provide invaluable insight into consumer trends and reaction to product placement.


Benefit from incentivized recycling.

Reassured their kids are engaged with an educational tool.


Understand from an early age the full scope and importance of recycling.

Influence plastic management in the home.

Secondary features such as games and activities on the back of the box or "toy inside" entice repeated consumption in search of reward.


Grocery stores will use mascots for children's programs and in-store activities.

H-E-Buddy is the mascot for H-E-B's various outreach programs.



chick-fil-A ad.png

Bright colors and memorable branding infer a sweet flavor profile and rewarding experience that children immediately relate to.

Ad campaigns that use ironic humor appeal to a wide audience

Cartoons and other "kids" entertainment programs make subversive jokes aimed at older viewers.


Existing games test logic and require the player to learn new rules, which players excitedly volunteer to do.

where's my water.png

Where's My Water? is an entire game series built on the premise of urban legends about alligators in the sewers.


All the constraints and research considered to determine the rollout.



Phase II

Designing a means for data collection that simultaneously changes how people think about plastics as valuable resources.

logo largemdpi.png

To gauge people's honest feelings toward recycling, they needed to take a test that measures reaction time and correctness, as well registering level of expertise and whether knowledge was gained during their interaction with the game.

Designing a Research Tool:

"Wish-cycling" is the colloquial term for aspirational recycling, which is what the game intends to discourage.

The "game" is incomplete - the experiment is disguised as the first level in a larger universe.

Experiment Flow

Game Flow

Game Illustrations:

A mascot and theme were developed around the ironic title of the game.

Asset 94mdpi.png
Asset 110mdpi.png
Asset 59mdpi.png
Asset 61mdpi.png
Asset 90mdpi.png
Asset 103mdpi.png
Asset 44mdpi.png
Asset 101mdpi.png
Asset 84mdpi.png
Asset 80mdpi.png

A common disruption in recycling infrastructure is pests such as raccoons that scavenge for food, so the mascot chosen was a recycle raccoon with naturally expressive features.

Named for the thing raccoons love the most: other people's food!

Asset 109mdpi.png
Asset 75mdpi.png
Asset 79mdpi.png












Virtual Plastic Game Items:

It was determined that real-life items are easier to identify and sort without requiring abstracted thinking.

Active perspective taking is achieved by placing the player in a recycling facility with items they use every day.

WishCycle Game Items in order-06.png
WishCycle Clipboards in order-06-07.png

The experiment compared accuracy, duration between each item, and overall duration of each participant against their survey and quiz data.

Rice Krispy must compare the items as they build up on the conveyor belt! The game is meant to be frantic to add a challenging element with gradual intensity by level.

Asset 118mdpi.png

Play the Game!

logo largemdpi.png

A player begins by answering a few demographic questions.

Players are introduced to the character, rules, and goals.

Recycling is the cause for the events of the game, but players are encouraged to focus on the competitive aspect.

Every point of data generated by the game can be analyzed to determine what that player is learning and how they improve over time.


Register your account so you can begin earning points toward rewards!


On the backend, we analyze data you generate by playing the game, providing insight into how players learn to differentiate plastics and product preferences.


Rules Screen:

How to play for points is explained with examples of items that will appear in the game.

Giving a "head start" in this way is intended to prime the player for both success in the game and accepting the lessons of the game as fact in everyday life outside of the game.

Asset 110mdpi.png

Elements of the game reflect real-world procedures to contextualize the message.

The putrid trash cloud will continue to grow, even when "trash" items are correctly designated.  If this cloud touches Rice Krispy, the game is lost.

Asset 52mdpi.png
Asset 61mdpi.png
Asset 59mdpi.png
Asset 60mdpi.png

A point bank tracks how well the player is performing.


Dramatic shifts in numbers and jumping graphics have been shown to influence the importance players place on tasks in the game.


Tokens (in the form of Rice Cereal Squares) are sprinkled throughout the game to boost players point bank and mix in a lighthearted element.

As difficulty increases by level, more specific searches and disassembly will be required.

Additional points can be earned for performing tasks such as cleaning the food waste from recyclable items (by feeding Rice Krispy), or breaking down boxes.


A badge wall displays accomplishments and further encourages the player to focus on the challenge.

Unity Software was used to build the game. Determinations of how much each item is worth and its correct designation is specified in the coding of those items. The visual sprite attached could be easily swapped out for an analogous item in the case of themed levels or alternate skins.





Phase III

Comparing data collected from the experiment + Encouraging players to expand their involvement.

Asset 121mdpi.png

The experiment designed and ready for launch, an IRB-approved research protocol was rolled out. The results of the game informed findings about how people recycle.

Asset 26mdpi.png

The game ends when the wand is discovered!

In the experiment, this concluded the first level and player was directed to complete exit survey and quiz.

In the game, this opens up to more possibilities for levels and story development.

cloud 1mdpi.png

An IAT measures bias when comparing visual stimuli, so it was used as comparative tool.

Delays from comparing items and checking the clipboard register on the backend as well, which informs about how players learn the details of the game. As those items are repeated onscreen, will the players learn what material they are made from, whether they can be recycled, or how they can be prepared for more points?

Precedent Research:

Implicit Association Test

Competitiveness also drives participation in similar app-based timed challenge games.

Asset 29mdpi.png

Game Results:

Performance data is collected throughout the game and presented to the player at the end of each level, comparing against a pooled player database.

If the putrid trash cloud touches Rice Krispy, the game is lost.

The player can choose to play again.

You gave Rice Krispy rabies!

Asset 27mdpi.png
Asset 98mdpi.png
Asset 91mdpi.png
Asset 52mdpi.png
Rabie baby.png

Findings from Experiment:

A Pearson's Coefficient indicated a statistically significant (-.59) inverse relationship exists between player's trust in recycling infrastructure and their overall performance.

Asset 124mdpi.png

91% of players focused on learning about virtual plastic items.

More than half tested correctly on their quiz portion.

Players believed their recycling knowledge had improved.

Expansion & Application:


Crowdsourced Level Design:

Player engagement is a key aspect of this proposed rollout in a commercial setting. 

Player earns points toward a rewards bank that can then be used at the host retailer.

Players contribute to future plotlines by filling out madlib-esque storylines, accessible from the home page's Build-A-Story Feature.

Asset 97mdpi.png
Asset 65mdpi.png