The Composting Project
Header Image
The project lasted November 2013 through August 2014.
The Internet Cat Video Festival and Music & Movies in the Park
Project Title
The Composting Project

AIGA Minnesota Design for Good Project Team

Emily Brownson, Lead, DFG Monthly Collaborative Meetings

Kelli Fox, Lead, DFG Monthly Collaborative Meetings

Sandy Wolfe Wood, Associate Director, DFG

Christopher Harrison

Kelsey Gullickson

Catherine Ensch

Katherine Lamb


This was a Design Thinking 101 project that used empathy, problem definition, ideation, prototyping and testing. Design for Good aimed to create behavior change by shifting negative perceptions of composting and increasing knowledge and interest in the topic.

Choosing to focus on Hennepin County’s recent directive to the city of Minneapolis, which mandated a citywide composting plan be in place by the end of 2014, Design for Good found a perfectly timed opportunity to work through a problem. Hennepin County has a strong recycling/composting initiative, but changing behavior is an enormous task. These designers saw an opening to find creative, humorous, and interactive ways to encourage people to start seeing compost instead of trash.


The Design for Good team donated their time to organize, build and staff the project. Materials were paid for through an AIGA Minnesota Program Improvement Grant.

Total Project Budget: $1,500 (Program Improvement Grant)


The design team began by learning what was already being done by the City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County around recycling and composting.This involved several meetings with Hennepin County and one informational presentation where both the city and the county sent representatives to speak to the group.

After learning more about composting —what qualifies for composting, how composting might be scaled to city-wide pickup, common barriers people have against composting,  the results of two pilot projects run by Hennepin County, what is compost used for citywide—the team asked a basic question:How might Design for Good help raise awareness of composting and excite and interest the people of Minneapolis to be engaged with the pending city wide changes?

The team generated ideas and converged on one idea to prototype. After brainstorming a variety of ways to involve the Minneapolis community, the group landed on attending two events to capture a wide variety of people at an already existing gathering.

The prototype involved providing one composting bin to be placed by each trash and recycling bin, and staffed in case anyone had any questions. In addition, there was one main booth constructed to show composting/waste information from Hennepin County, as well as clever phrases to draw attention to the booth.

The prototype created was named and branded Talkin’ Trash. The brand was developed to inject humor in an unexpected place and consequently make composting an approachable and interesting topic to talk about.

Individuals divided the work and executed the concept: creating a composting ‘booth’; arranging for compost bins to be delivered and picked up; screen-printing T-shirts; arranging for stamps, stickers, and napkins.

Team members tested their concept at two Walker Art Center events.


Our key strategy was to meet people where they are. 1) Composting needs to be an easy choice to make, and 2) you need to go where people are already intending to be (and where there is food waste) to educate them about composting. This was the impetus for partnering with the Walker Art Center for two of the most popular summer events in the Cities: the Internet Cat Video Festival, and Music & Movies in the Park.

Using social media to gain extra momentum. In addition to our physical set-up at the events, we needed to make an online splash as well. By creating a webpage at and the hashtag #talkintrashmpls, we aimed to drive people to both learn more about composting and instagram, tweet, and share what was happening in real time. It was effective in getting people excited to spread awareness of the cause.


Defining the appropriate audience.  The potential audience needed clear definition: Is it apartment dwellers? Is it people who are resistant to composting?  Is it millennials who seem more open to the idea? Instead of narrowing the audience at this stage, we broadened it to include anyone who would attend a free summer Walker event—all ages and income levels—and used those events to evaluate the idea.

Creating something impactful with a minimal budget. Both Walker events are packed with people, and our booth was situated at the back of the crowd next to the food trucks. The challenge was to create a visual presence that would catch people’s attention—using a $1500 budget. Using inexpensive heavy-duty cardboard, the team designed a series of interlocking panels that reached 7 feet high. They painted the panels with facts about compost and strategically designed the compost bins into cats in an anthropomorphic fashion (to align with the Walker Cat Video theme). This playful surprise delighted event attendees, seeing giant cat faces in an unexpected place: compost bins. Many individuals stopped to snap a photo, and of course to compost. 


  • A “booth” built of interlocking heavy-duty cardboard
  • Giveaways with ‘Talkin’ Trash logo and taglines: stickers, handstamps, napkins
  • Cat-themed compost bins
  • One-on-one engagement with the public: the design team and Minneapolis ‘compost mentors’ circulated throughout the crowd, monitored compost bins, and talked to people about the benefits of composting

Community impact. The design team collected 895 lbs of compost at the two events, material that would otherwise have been incinerated or carried to a landfill. Many people stopped to read the information on the booth, get a compost stamp on their hand (such as the “Compost Cats”) or pick up a sticker, thank us for raising awareness, or take pictures of our cute cat composting bins. Hennepin County was also impressed by the amount collected as well as the quality of what was collected, deeming it to be impressively “clean compost.”

Recognition. The project was accepted as part of ‘Project Passion’, a juried design exhibition, February 2015.

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