051: Trash Day!

Good Fit Poor Fit
Design Advisor Feedback
051: Trash Day!

Show Notes

Townew Trashcan

Aicool Smart Trashcan

Gladiator Trash Compactor


Sarah:  You’re Listening to Good Fit Poor Fit. A podcast that explores the interaction between people, design, and activity. Good Fit Poor Fit is part of The Universal Design Project, a nonprofit organization with a vision for every community across the USA to have a surplus of homes and opportunities for social participation that are universally and financially accessible.

[00:00:27] Learn more at universaldesign.org. 

[00:00:31] Rebecca: Hey, Good Fit Poor Fit peeps. Welcome back for another episode. Today, we are joined by our OTD student, Lauren, and I hope you are all ready to get down and dirty because we are talking trash. Taking out the trash, that is. Lauren, get us started. 

[00:00:47] Lauren: Our podcast topic today was suggested to us by one of our podcasts listeners. In the first couple of days working with the Universal Design Project, I saw that a listener suggested trash removal from the home as a future discussion topic and this reminded me of an experience I had while I was in OT school. My cohort participated in a chore day at our OT house. This house was a traditionally designed one level home. My classmates and I were each assigned to complete certain chores throughout the house while experiencing obstacles, similar to those with particular impairments, such as low vision, upper extremity weakness, diminished grip strength, or while using a walker or wheelchair, just to name a few. While all the tasks were a lot more challenging, I noticed all of my classmates, regardless of impairment, had a very difficult time taking the trash out of the house and to the end of the driveway. Based on this experience, I wanted to learn more from those that have personal experience with the barriers this everyday task presents.

[00:01:47] So, I reached out to our design advisor team, who have personal experience with disabilities, for this insight and received some thought provoking feedback. Some of our design advisors are occupational therapists and share the perspective of breaking this issue down into a detailed account of the steps and the various ways people have to complete this task, something OTs often call an activity analysis. Sarah, can you share some more about what an activity analysis is?

[00:02:15] Sarah: Yeah. Really, an activity analysis is all about breaking down any type of task, like you said, and we do this to look at all of the little steps that we have to do to complete it.

[00:02:26] So, for taking out the trash, as an example, for someone to do it independently, we need to look at all of the little steps that are required to complete the task of taking out the trash and see if there are any barriers in any of those steps. The goal of this is to find a solution for those barriers so someone can do that task independently. Many times, people can do parts of the tasks themselves, but get hung up on other steps and they can’t do it all. So, for taking out the trash, as an example, many people have to get the trash out of the bin or the trashcan, which requires strength, bending, balance, fine motor control and lifting.

[00:03:06] Then they have to move that bag, whether it’s big or small outside somehow. More strength and balance involved, more fine motor tasks, moving in a mobility device or maybe walking. Then, many times people have to take that out to a bigger trashcan that goes out to the curb, drive it to the dump, haul it down the hall to a trash chute or even outside to a community dumpster somewhere on the property. The same is done for different types of recycling that may go to different locations too. As you can see when you break down these big tasks into little ones and analyze them, the seemingly simple task of taking out the trash is actually quite complicated when you’re trying to help people figure out what to do with different types of abilities. 

[00:03:50 ] Lauren: Ah, yes. I remember my days in my Art and Science OT course, where we did a fun activity, like making a bird house or sewing the new pillow. Our fun crafts were always followed by a 10 or more page activity analysis where we identified the body structures and body functions required for each little step of this task.

[00:04:10] It was a lot of work, but made me realize which functional abilities are required to complete what can be seemingly easy tasks for those without an impairment. But back to the topic at hand, what does taking out the trash entail for you guys? 

[00:04:24] Sarah: Lauren, as for our trash situation, we live in an apartment building that kind of reminds you of a hotel-like setup where all of the rooms open into a shared indoor hallway.

[00:04:34] Our unit, of course, is at the very end of the hall and our trash chute is all the way at the other end, near the elevator in a room that requires you to open one door to get into the main trash room and then open another door on a hinge that folds down and then you have to shove the bag inside.

[00:04:56] In other places we’ve lived, we’ve had to haul bags across the parking lot and step up onto a curb to get it into a gigantic dumpster. 

[00:05:04] Rebecca: Ah ,yes. I have lived in places like that, as well. In fact, in one apartment complex in which I lived, there was one large trash receptacle for the entire place, with many buildings, with many floors.

[00:05:18] So, I actually had to use my car to drive my trash to that receptacle because it was so far from my building. And even when I got there, the hook to get into the fenced-off trash area was almost too high for my five-foot-two-self to reach. So, you can imagine there were quite a few barriers in that setup.

[00:05:39]That was pretty poor planning if you ask me. And pretty unsanitary and rather smelly with everyone putting their trash in one relatively small place. But any-hoo, let’s start breaking this down a little bit more and then talking about strategies to make this stinky task a bit simpler. 

[00:05:56] What are your first thoughts, Lauren? 

[00:05:58] Lauren: With all the different ways to take out the trash, there are a multitude of areas barriers may arise. But let’s start with the basics. We mentioned we had to remove the trash bag from the bin. This was actually the barrier most frequently mentioned by our design advisors.

[00:06:13] So, if the traditional way we hoist our heavy bags out of their trash bin isn’t ideal, what are some alternatives? Some suggestions I received included use of a trash compactor to allow for more manageable bag or a bin with the side opening doors to remove the bag without requiring the same upper extremity strength and range of motion to pull a full bag straight up and out of the top of the bin.

[00:06:40] Rebecca: That’s a really solid idea and can definitely reduce some of the heavy lifting and strain that it might put on someone’s shoulder to have to lift a heavy bag straight up into the air. In a similar vein to what you’re saying, using smaller trash cans can make each bag lighter to take out. In this case, of course, you would have to empty your trash more often, but it could prevent you from filling up the bin to the point that it’s too heavy or dangerous to lift. So that can be a good option for a lot of people. 

[00:07:11] Sarah: That’s actually a pretty smart idea. I mean, who says we have to use those tall kitchen trash cans anyway. You may have to take it out more often, like you said, but those smaller bags can be easier to manage than a large bag filled to the brim.

[00:07:25] Lauren: Speaking of smaller trash cans, I did a quick Google search to see what products may already be out there to help solve this problem and found a trash can made by the company, Townew. This company makes a small trashcan that opens by motion sensor, seals the trash bag off for you, and re-lines the trash bin with a new bag when needed.

[00:07:46] While this trashcan is expensive and requires some fine motor control skills for setup, it is a pretty cool product and is definitely onto something. AiCool is another company with a product with similar features and is able to be controlled by an app on your phone. Based off the feedback received from our design advisors, bending over and physically lifting the trash bag out of the can is the most difficult aspect of this step, followed by the fine motor control to tie off the old bag and re-line the trashcan with a new bag. The company Townew and AiCool trash cans would solve their problems of tying, or sealing off the old bag, and relining with the new bag, but it’d be cool to see a company invent a trashcan that could solve the biggest issue mentioned: the actual lifting of the bag out of the can. This could be accomplished by a trash bin that was able to lift the trash bag to the top of the can, out of the can, or at least to a position that provided more attainable reach and reduced strength needed to remove it from the bin. Makes me think of those cartoon movies, where they had an ejection button for the passenger seat.

[00:08:52] Although, we may not want to launch our trash into the air. If this feature was added, it would incorporate the UD principle of ‘Size and Space for Approach and Use’. Which just means providing adequate size and space for approach, reach, manipulation and use, regardless of the user’s body size, posture or mobility.

[00:09:10] Sarah: I can actually see that little trash ejection button happening in my brain when you describe it, Lauren, that’s pretty cool. And I also wanted to go back to something that you hinted to earlier, is even some sort of trashcan that would allow you to slide the bag out sideways, out a side  wall, versus up the opening. I think that would definitely make things easier too. We need to get an industrial designer on this, cause I don’t think I’ve actually seen a trash can like that. 

[00:09:35] Lauren: Moving onto the next step, most people removing trash from their home will need to get that trash bag or bin to one of the exterior doors of the home. While attempting to complete this step, our design advisors describe how they often have to drag their trash bag on the floor, alongside them, which is messy and difficult.

[00:09:54] One person mentioned how this can cause their bags to break creating an even bigger mess. Another strategy used was bringing their trash bag out on their lap or their feet. One design advisor described how they grabbed the bag by the strings after its out of the can and carry it on their feet, transporting it with them on their power chair. While another describes how they switched to using smaller trash bags and transporting these outside on their lap. All of these scenarios sound like a balancing act and less than ideal. I know I would prefer to not have to carry my smelly trash on my lap, if there were an easier way. 

[00:10:29] Sarah: Yeah, Scott’s method is about the same and it isn’t much prettier. He typically puts it on his lap and tries to push it down our hallway. It’s much easier in his power chair, like you mentioned, because he can use one hand to hold onto the trash and the other to use the joystick.

[00:10:44] But when he uses his manual chair, he tends to hold the drawstrings of the bag and his teeth. Yuck. And that big lumpy bag often just falls onto the floor all while trying to get it to the door. Then he has to manage the door to open it and hold onto the trash at the same time, navigating over that threshold.

[00:11:03] Lauren: That doesn’t sound like the ideal situation either. When asking the design advisors, what could make this easier, one mentioned how she had a laundry chute in her house growing up and wondered about how a garbage chute from the home, into a large bin outside could help. Alternatively, if this trash can had wheels, it could make this task easier.

[00:11:24] One of our design advisors brought up a good point and tied this possible situation to the need for universal design in the home. Whether someone was wanting to use a rolling trash bin or a rolling laundry basket, a zero step, flat threshold would be needed between rooms. Combining the idea of a trash compactor and a bin with wheels, I found a free-standing trash compactor with casters made by the company, Gladiator. This bin is on the smaller side and definitely looks to be a good alternative to your standard, large, heavy kitchen garbage can. 

[00:11:58] Rebecca: Excellent point, Lauren and I liked the way that you connected this one household task to the design of the entire home.

[00:12:05] It also highlights the value of a design choice, like zero step, flat thresholds because not only is it safer for walking or wheeling over, it also makes transporting heavy objects which could be: trash bins, furniture, boxes, much easier. But anyway, back to the garbage, when we’ve got it out the door, so what did our design advisors say about the next step in the process?

[00:12:28] Lauren: Finally, there is getting the trash bag or bin from the door of the home, to the trash receptacle whether that’s a standard garbage can, dumpster, or trash chute. Let’s start with the standard garbage can. I’ve had several design advisors describe this task as a safety concern, especially as a fall risk when bending over with a large trash bag or navigating down the driveway with a large trash bin.

[00:12:53] One of the responses I received from a design advisor mentioned how their friend broke their ankle while attempting to drop her trash off into her large city trash can.  The experience I had at our campus OT house is similar to what I do at home, where I have to hoist the big bag into the big trash cans provided to us by the city that need to be at the end of the driveway, where they are required to face the road in a particular position and have to be put behind the house on non-trash days.

[00:13:23]This required standard bin creates problems for those who have difficulty moving these large, tall bins, biweekly. 

[00:13:30] Rebecca: Sure that makes sense. Now, let’s start thinking about the issue of getting the trash to the dumpster, located on a property. 

[00:13:38] Lauren: For how people completed this step, I received feedback discussing how someone had to navigate across the parking lot to get to dumpsters, which can be dangerous if it’s busy and there aren’t always sidewalks provided. Another stated that while she doesn’t have a physical impairment, she struggles with getting her heavy trash bags all the way to her dumpster before the bag breaks. I know from my days working at restaurants, having to hoist large trash bags into a standard dumpster is a near impossible task. I remember having my fair share of bags break on me and garbage juice splatter on my jeans.

[00:14:13] Since I don’t have much experience with trash chutes what is involved in getting these for trash disposal? 

[00:14:19] Sarah: Sure. Yeah. I’ll describe our trash chute. What we have is a big circular tube at the end of the hall that leads down to a trash compactor and then a dumpster in the garage. All the tenants take their trash from their apartment and they go into the trash room and open up that door, basically on a hinge, and drop that trash down into the dumpster. It’s actually really difficult to manage that door because you have to hold the door down for you to get the trash in and it actually requires quite a bit of balance and force and really good grip on the door to manage, to get that bag inside.

[00:14:57] Our maintenance team then pushes out the big dumpsters for those big trash trucks to come and empty them.

[00:15:04] Rebecca: Ah, I see. I like the way that both of you broke that down, it sounds like taking out the trash at your home takes some skill, from balance to grip. Probably wouldn’t be so easy for everyone, any ideas for how it could be made easier? 

[00:15:19] Lauren: Yes. Although this last step is the most varied amongst households, I received some input for solutions to some of these problems.

[00:15:28] If in a multifamily buildings, such as an apartment, having the accessible units near the trash chute, or multiple trash receptacles throughout the building, would be helpful. Or, alternatively, providing trash valet service for residents could solve this problem.

[00:15:43] Another universal design element useful here, whether an apartment or house: accessible sidewalks or walkways that lead from the exterior doors to dumpsters or trash bins. Other universal design elements can be incorporated here, like providing a well-lit, flat, zero-step paved walkway from the door of the home to where the garbage cans are kept, as well as all the way down the driveway to place them in their correct place for pickup.

[00:16:09] One of our design advisors actually made a deal with his local waste management company to be able to keep his large garbage cans in their place, on the driveway, instead of having to roll them down the street every week. Looking into this for what is available in my area, I found our waste management company provides free side yard service for garbage, organics and recyclables to residents who are either disabled or 65 years or older and have no able-bodied adults living in their home. This service is also available for anybody who’s willing to pay the extra fee. That saves a lot of hassle. 

[00:16:46] Rebecca: Certainly a good point. You’re right in that it’s not simply about the garbage receptacle itself, but also the area surrounding the garbage, because that plays a big role in someone’s ability, or limitation, in taking out the trash.

[00:16:59] I think the most difficult part of this final step, for many, is actually lifting the trash bag into the larger receptacle that will be taken away by the trash pickup team. So that brings us to the idea of trying to keep those bags light, if possible. But in an ideal world, I would love to see more universal design come into play here.

[00:17:20] I know that Lauren mentioned, and I’ve also had experience with, counties that provide trash bins for each home. What if those bins weren’t so tall and heavy? What if a family could opt to get two shorter, lighter ones, or ones with different handles or rolling mechanisms? I would love to see these types of ideas come to fruition, offering different people with different needs, flexibility, so that they can do the things they have to.

[00:17:47] So if there are any waste management practitioners out there listening, give us a ring. Cause I’d love to chat. 

[00:17:54] Sarah: Most definitely doing this little activity analysis really brought to light different parts of the task of taking out trash that many people have just accepted are difficult. Just as we discussed today, I think there are a lots of little details in these steps that can be improved upon to help people be more independent in this task of taking out the trash. From trash can design, to how homes are designed to get the trash out, to even how our communities have established waste management protocols for all citizens.

[00:18:25] This is also something to consider for recycling as well. Thanks Lauren, for helping us discuss this topic and a big thank you to all of our design advisors who gave us feedback from their personal and professional lives, we appreciate it. If you found a particularly easy way to manage this task, let us know.

[00:18:43] I know there are many people out there who would like to know, our team included. Have a good one and we look forward to sharing more with you again soon. Bye!

 Thanks for listening to Good Fit Poor Fit. I’m your host Sarah Pruett, Program Director and Occupational Therapist at The Universal Design Project. Learn more about our work at universaldesign.org, and find more episodes and links to subscribe at goodfitpoorfit.com If you have questions or topics you’d like to discuss, email us at [email protected].

[00:19:23] Thanks for fitting us into your day!


One response to “051: Trash Day!”

  1. Yaser Abdallah Avatar

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