Helen Chen

Composting App

Making composting in New York City accessible and fun for all ages


IDEO Course on
Human-centered Design

Design Research,
Rapid Prototyping,
UX/UI Design

Helen Chen
Anita Wong
Tobia Kahn
Lauren Wang
Lindsay Jellig


In the last few years, there has been a growth in both government and civilian endeavors to promote composting in New York City. At a residential level, some New Yorkers already compost via various methods in their own homes or at local greenmarkets and gardens. Nevertheless, there still remains certain obstacles for New Yorkers to adopt the habit of composting:

  1. Will residents properly sort their food scraps?

  2. Can processors sufficiently clean up what is collected?

  3. Will compost be treated as a valuable commodity?

The NYC Sanitation Department is trying to instate a Zero-Waste Initiative, where the city will be contributing zero waste to landfills by 2030, and an increase in citywide composting will help. For the New Yorkers who want to start composting, how can we turn this curiosity into action? 


Carl the Composting Tamagotchi is an educational and habit-building app that requires its caretaker (the user) to feed it compostable material weekly. As he grows, the user will unlock new tips and tricks about composting in New York City. 


The gamification element of the product will make the endeavor compost regularly more accessible and fun for children and adults.


Carl the Composting Tamagotchi is the main guide in the app. The user can sync their grocery list, recipes, and cooking schedule so that the app can help keep track of their potential waste management with them. Carl is fed when the user logs their compost through the app and feeding Carl regularly will help him grow.

By logging the what is composted, Carl will also alert the user when it’s something he can’t consume. The user will also receive fun facts about the afterlife cycle of the food they composted. The user can purchase a compost bin with a QR code that can be linked to the app or use their own containers or public bins.


This was a four-week long project that consisted of three field trips to
green markets and rooftop farms, six user interviews, and two prototype
and design sessions.



Observing compost habits at farmers’ markets, going to grocery stores to see what options there are, speaking with users and experts, helped us gain insights into what the composting landscape is like currently in NYC.

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  1. No space and time—busy schedules and the fear of having food rot in a crammed space deterred people from composting.

  2. Some who already compost experience a certain social stigma from non-like-minded individuals. 

  3. Those who already compost tend to have a community of like-minded people that they share this habit with.

  4. Composting is a habit. It gets adopted through consistent actions. 

  5. Better signage and access to resources to help guide those who want to start composting.


There are two versions of the app: one for household/person use and one for educators who want to incorporate composting into their curriculum.