Spring 2023


GoGreen is a proposal for a mobile application designed to reduce waste generated by the use of single-use takeout containers. The app tackles the question: how might we ensure that containers are reusable and eco-friendly in food takeout locations, particularly in a university campus setting?

The system rewards students with discounts for NYU dining locations whenever they bring their own reusable containers. Through this system, GoGreen allows students to meet their sustainability goals while also saving money on food.

Time spent

3 months.

My role

Research, Solution Ideation, Prototype Design & Development, Proposal Presentation
view prototype

The Challenge

For my UX Design class at NYU, we were tasked with finding a problem worth solving in our day-to-day lives, and with designing a solution in the form of a mobile-based digital experience. As I am highly interested in sustainability, I felt drawn to that area, and I wondered whether there was an opportunity to increase sustainable practices in people's lives, particularly in my university or in New York at large.

User Research

I started off thinking about the practice of recycling, and whether there might be a way to make it easier for people to recycle correctly, specifically in New York City. I wanted to find out if people in New York had any issues or confusion with their methods of recycling, to see if there was an opportunity to facilitate that process. To do this, I conducted several interviews with fellow NYU students. These are the questions I asked:

  • Do you ever recycle, as in, separate your everyday trash into different containers based on material?
    • If yes – How do you do it? What’s your method? How do you feel about this method?
    • If no – Why not?
  • Do you know where to go in New York to recycle your trash? 
    • How convenient is it for you to get to that place? 
    • How did you find out you could go there to throw your trash out?
  • What do you do when you are unsure where to throw something?
  • From 1-5, how easy is it for you to recycle in your everyday life?


These were the key takeaways from the interviews:

  • All respondents stated they recycle.
  • Most respondents keep two separate trash bins for recyclable and non-recyclable waste.
  • Some participants clean up the items before throwing them away.
  • Several respondents felt good about their recycling methods, but didn't think recycling was very useful because they didn't know what the city would later do with that trash.
  • Participants go to the recycling rooms in their dorms or their apartment buildings to throw their trash, and they felt this was veryconvenient.
  • If unsure of where something goes, most participants throw it in the regular trash bin.
  • Most participants found recycling to be easy.

The switch to food packaging waste

Based on my user research results, it seemed that most participants found recycling easy and convenient, and they felt confident in how to do it. I realize then that I may have made an assumption in thinking that people in NYU were confused about how to recycle, or that proper recycling methods in New York City hadn't been clear to them.
Seeing this, I decided to change my focus. I began to consider my own experiences at NYU, along with what friends and students had told me in the past, and I found that there may be an opportunity in changing the way NYU packages its food for takeout purposes. In my own experience, I had always been frustrated at the amount of single-use packaging that NYU dining halls use to serve food, which contrasted with their supposed "commitment" to sustainable practices. However, I had never felt incentivized to take action about it. I wondered, then, if something could be done to make the takeout experience more aligned with students' own desires for a more sustainable takeout experience at NYU.

Secondary Research

I was not able to conduct a second round of interviews regarding my new focus. Instead, I researched the current use of single-use takeout containers, and their impact on the environment, through articles and case studies.
These were some of my key findings:

  • Common food packaging practices have many negative effects on the environment. Packaging requires a lot of resources to manufacture, and it usually ends up in landfills or in the ocean.
  • Plastic waste from food packaging is harmful to animals like fish and seabirds, and microplastics can make it into humans' bodies through food.
  • Black plastic, commonly used in takeout food packaging to make food appear more appealing, is particularly problematic. Black plastic is often not recycled because recycling machines cannot "see" the black dye.
  • Disposable coffee cups and nylon slow-cooker bags release trillions of plastic particles. The lining in paper cups releases over 5 trillion plastic nanoparticles per liter of hot liquid in 20 minutes. These particles end up in our bodies, making them a hazard to our health.

This research allowed me to realize that there was a problem with NYU's use of unsustainable packaging, and to get a better sense of the importance of encouraging alternative formats of food packaging.

Problem Statement

After gaining an understanding of the issue through research, I drafted my problem statement:

"For NYU students, it’s a constant challenge to maintain a sustainable lifestyle. Every time they attend the dining hall, they are provided with NYU’s plastic takeout containers in order to get their food and carry it with them. This is especially true if they’re a student paying for a meal plan.
The main problem students face is a lack of time to focus on things outside of their studies, which leads to having little time or incentive to worry about their environmental impact. Today, their best option is to bring their own reusable containers, but of course, they find this time- and energy-consuming, and they don't feel motivated to do so. With their amount of assignments increasing as the semester goes on, the problem will only get worse over time.
If only there was a better way to ensure the food takeout process at NYU did not impact the environment negatively, then students could reduce the amount of plastic waste they generate. This would lead to a more sustainable environment at the university, and with it, more awareness about climate change and more eagerness from students to do their part to help. With over 50,000 students currently attending NYU, there is a clear opportunity to meaningfully impact a huge number of people and the environment."

Current State Journey Map

Once I had narrowed down on my problem, I created a current state journey map. I thought about the process of ordering food at a dining hall at NYU for a typical student. I identified the different steps of the process, and the pain points that may be associated with each one. After I had done this, I thought about what opportunities the different pain points might afford.

Where I saw an opportunity was with the pickup step, where students would be able to bring in their own reusable container if they chose to. I wondered about what might be the best ways to ensure that the takeout containers that were used were easy to use and eco-friendly.

Solution Ideation: How Might We...?

I followed the current state journey map with a brainstorming session, where me and the class came up with some ideas for how to address the opportunity I had pinpointed in my map. Several ideas were thrown around, such as using biodegradable containers, making containers impact the environment positively, and incentivizing students to bring their own reusable containers.

Ultimately, I was drawn to the idea of motivating students to bring their own containers by providing rewards or discounts for doing so. I felt that this solution could effectively address the issue by motivating students to follow a more sustainable lifestyle, while also saving money on food purchases at the university.

Competitive Analysis

I looked into what some of the existing products that address some aspect of this issue exist. One example was Tim Hortons' reusable cup program, which they instated earlier this year. Another example was the use of biodegradable or compostable containers, which brands like Stroodles create.

The most inspiring example was Starbucks, who offer discounts on drinks for clients who bring their own reusable cups. This idea inspired me because I was sure that discounts would motivate students who are trying to save money. However, the rewards at Starbucks felt somewhat too small, and I saw an opportunity to use bigger rewards, or perhaps variable rewards. In a social psychology class last semester, I learned about how the use of variable rewards can motivate users more than fixed rewards. I determined that my solution should combine the psychology of variable rewards with a program of rewards for reuse.

Future State Journey Map

With the idea of creating a rewards system in mind, I created a future state journey map, to show what steps a user might take through my solution.

My solution would be in the form of an app, which would be connected to NYU (like Handshake) and which would allow students to earn rewards for bringing reusable containers. Whenever a student went to the dining hall and used their own container, the cashier would notify the app that they had done so as they check out. Then, when the student checks the app on their phone, they will see that they have a new discount that they can use. The rewards would vary in terms of location and amount, in order to keep students excited about what they might get next. Now, the next time the student goes to a dining hall, they can use a QR code provided by the app to claim their reward and get food at a discounted price. In that way, students can be sustainable while also saving money.

The app would also feature a leaderboard component. This would allow students to see where they rank within their school and among their friends, in terms of how often they've used reusable containers. The leaderboard would add a layer of competition which would motivate students even more to keep up the habit and be successful.

Ultimately, by using this system, the goal is that the amount of single-use plastic containers discarded at NYU's dining halls would be reduced over time. This would lead to a more sustainable university environment which would allow NYU to reach their desired sustainability levels (and more).

User Flow Diagram

The next step was to create a user flow diagram for my app, to visualize the information architecture (how information would be organized) and what the user's primary journey through the app would look like (the golden path).

The user will first log into the app, or sign up with a new account. If the user used a reusable container since the last time they opened the app, they will receive their new discount after logging in. Then, they can choose if they want to use it now or save it for later. If they choose to use it now, they will be shown the QR code for the discount, which they can then use at checkout at the dining hall to claim their reward.

There are some secondary options in the app. The first is the discount gallery, where users can see what discounts they have saved up, and they can select them to redeem them. The second is the leaderboard, where users can see where they rank within their school or with their friends. Lastly, there would be a profile page, where users could look at their account stats and settings, and add friends to their friend list.

Visual Style Guide

Before beginning to design a prototype for my app, I designed a style guide to ensure the style was consistent throughout the design. I started by creating a moodboard with lots of natural imagery and sustainable products. I wanted the overall look to have an organic, natural feel that reminded people of themes of sustainability. I also wanted the design to feel casual, friendly, and approachable, so I opted for a soft-serif font and bright, contrasting colors.

Final Prototype

Using Figma, I created a high-fidelity mobile prototype of what I wanted my app to look like. I included the golden path, as well as some of the secondary functions like the leaderboard and the basic profile page. I also included filters for the rewards section, so that students could filter based on location (Manhattan or Brooklyn), or by type (% off, 2 for 1, or free).

A preview of the prototype can be seen here, or by clicking on the image.

User Testing

As I finalized my prototype, I conducted some user testing. I had 5 NYU students try using the prototype and describe their thoughts and feelings as they experienced the flow of the app.

Here are some of the key observations I gathered from their feedback:

  • Participants found the app simple, intuitive, and easy to navigate, and they liked the aesthetic.
  • All said the idea of getting discounts would motivate them to be more sustainable. However, for some, the discount quality was important in deciding whether or not to use the app.
  • Some participants suggested adding filters for Manhattan/Brooklyn discounts, instead of dining hall/non-dining hall.
  • Participants liked the variable rewards, but some suggested adding a fixed reward as well to keep users engaged.
  • A search bar in the leaderboard was suggested for searching specific people.


What worked?
Overall, I think the strongest point of my solution was the visual design aesthetic, as testers thought it was well defined and effective. Also, the prototype and user flow were clear and easy to use for testers. But one important observation was that all testers agreed they would use the app. As such, it seems that my solution did address pain points that NYU students currently experience, and thus, it potentially addresses a gap in NYU’s sustainability efforts and proposes a fun and rewarding way to be sustainable. As this was my goal when designing this solution, I am pleased that it was strong in that respect.

What could be better?
One big improvement would be to conduct more initial research -- find out user pain points directly from surveys and interviews. As I could not conduct more interviews after switching my focus, I felt that I did not have as much knowledge of what users expected or wanted. Additionally, with testers there was a lot of discussions about whether rewards should be variable or fixed. Some people felt that fixed rewards would be more effective. Perhaps more user control over what kind of rewards users can expect would keep people more engaged with the system. Lastly, it could be interesting to expand this project into the physical realm as well, and design physical prototypes for reusable containers that students could buy at the dining halls as part of the GoGreen initiative.