Wellington startup Method Recycling applied design thinking principles to the office bin station
Many of the things in life we think are easy to use and understand often turn out to be more complicated than first thought. Take, for example, bins at the office: while most of us are conscientious when it comes to recycling at home, the office is a different story. Whether it’s because the bins are too far away, in an inconvenient spot, or are not emptied often enough, workers are less inclined to think about where their waste goes in the office rather than at home.
It isn’t hard to come up with theories as to where the problem has emerged: they’re just bins, after all. For busy office managers who have a lot to think about and coordinate, bins would surely be at the bottom of the agenda – as long as there are bins there and rubbish is ending up there, that’s good enough.
Wellington startup Method Recycling, however, doesn’t agree, and has sought to come up with a solution through the application of design thinking principles to the problem.
Husband and wife team Steve and India Korner started out with a business called Total Bins in 2011, selling wheelie bins and liners out of a van. After a while they realised that there was a bigger problem they could be solving: sustainability in the office.
Part of the idea came from Mrs Korner’s work in commercial leasing, where she saw first hand the problems with bins in corporate office spaces. The Korners decided to combine their expertise in design and engineering to create a sleek product that fits a contemporary office but also fulfils a company’s sustainability criteria.
“Companies spend thousands of dollars fitting out their space, and they attract staff with it and they have visitors come in, but some of them have outdoor wheelie bins next to, say, a marble kitchen, or they are hiding away the recycling in built-in drawers, so they’re trying to encourage people to do it but then they’re hiding it away,” Mrs Korner explained.
The pair put themselves in the footsteps of their customers, with a few companies giving them access to their staff and offices to follow their staff around.
“They allowed us to do interviews with the staff and do midnight shifts with cleaners to see how waste was actually functioning in the space, talking to all the management that was involved as well. Then we did things like roleplays with the staff as well to try and understand their processes when it came to recycling,” Mr Korner explained.
From there, the Korners began developing various prototypes, which they then looked at from an engineering perspective in terms of what happens when the waste has been deposited, from how to keep bags in place so they don’t fall to how to ensure the cleaners can get dirt out of the corners.
“We really tried to understand and put features in that were for all the different stakeholders involved, for servicing, for the user, that kind of thing,” Mr Korner said.
The bins created come in a range of different colours to suit different waste streams, with customers able to pick and choose which ones they need, from landfill, organics, paper, mixed recycling, glass, co-mingled recycling, plastics and cans recycling, and so on. The bins come with joiners to create bin stations, and with an open or touch to open lid.
A single open lid bin costs AUD$175, while the touch to open bin is $245 – a significant amount for just one bin, Mr Korner admitted, but he said that when compared to the cost of buying an individual bin and liners for each desk, the costs even out. Cleaners are also saved time and effort by having to empty big bins already separated into different waste streams rather than individual bins.
The Korners self funded much of the development of Method Recycling, with their families also pitching in. This helped them work with manufacturers in China to create the tooling from which the bins are injection molded, which they then had shipped back to New Zealand.
Also helping them along were orders put in from the handful of large organisations they had done their research with, helping them hit the ground running with sales. While direct sales make up around 60 to 70 percent of sales, Method Recycling is also re-selling through furnishing companies and waste providers, as well as online.
Like many other products, however, much of it comes down to word of mouth and finding the champion within a company to push the product through.
“It’s all about finding the right person in the organisation and getting through to them. Often companies buy it when they’re moving to a new premises, things like that are an activator for them, so they’ll think about it then, or sometimes they just want a better system. We’ve had quite a lot of advocates for us who are really passionate about this kind of product,” Mr Korner said.
Method Recycling’s bins are currently being used by the likes of Bank of New Zealand and independent New Zealand broadcaster Media Works, while they are also on display at Wellington airport.
Only officially launching into the market around 18 months ago, the startup found itself selling to Australia much faster than expected, with Atlassian getting in touch to talk about getting the bins into its Sydney office and Queensland Health also buying them up. Now working with Lendlease on the new Barangaroo office towers in Sydney, around 70 percent of Method Recycling’s sales are now coming from Australia.
Sales have enabled the startup to develop new products, such as small ‘pre-cycling’ bins for desks, and have also gotten it significant attention: Method was earlier this month awarded a NZ$50,000 Westpac Growth Grant and named a winner in Deloitte’s New Zealand Fast 50 regional awards.
The Korners are now focused on growing Method across Australasia, with the logistics of shipping and stockholding a key problem they will be looking to solve.
Image: India and Steve Korner. Source: Method Recycling.