top of page

Product Design

Sustaining Life Under Water: Semester long project for IDC 4050H, Prototyping for Social Innovation

Tools Utilized: Adobe Photoshop, Tinkercad, 3D Printing

Design Problem

Improving life below water is one of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2030. In this project, I attempted to design a product that could prevent trash from ending up in the water, a contributing factor to the problem. Specifically, I worked on improving the trash can design for a seaside location that is currently ill-equipped to keep trash from ending up in the nearby water. 

Users / Pain Points

While the end user of the product is the public, the stakeholders are the local authorities who will decide if the proposed product design facilitates the UN’s goal and is cost-effective. Should this small product launch be successful, it would be proposed to other communities.

The pain points of the current trash can are displayed in the picture taken during my site visit to a yacht dock. These pain points include:

  • Holes in the side of the can allowing for garbage to pass through

  • There are no bags placed in the cans to keep trash from coming out

  • Seagulls flying into the cans, lifting trash out, and dropping it in the water


Online research revealed that 80% of what negatively impacts life below water is the actions of people on land, and 20% is from people on boats. There are many contributing factors, including emissions from vehicles, pollution from factories, and pieces of trash not being disposed of properly. A site visit to a boat dock allowed me to witness these problems firsthand. I saw people sitting in running cars and many planes passing overhead, both of which contribute to the emissions problem. There were also numerous yachts parked and covered for the winter which release emissions into the water during the summer season. I also noticed garbage all over the ground. It was spilling through the holes of the garbage cans and lifted out by seagulls because the cans had neither lids nor bags.

After reviewing my observations, I realized it is not realistic for me as a college student to achieve the minimization of vehicular emissions or limit pollution from smokestacks. I could, however, brainstorm and create a prototype trash can to solve the garbage problem. 

Key Audience​

End-users: People who visit seaside locations.

Stakeholders: Town officials or companies who want to associate their brand with sustainability.

Further Research​

I searched online for information and found articles about trash bins and desirable features of outdoor garbage cans. These include:

  • Holes which allow bags to slide out easily and prevent vacuum-sealing

  • Cover to keep out rain and animals

  • Color that makes it easy to spot

  • Durable material

  • Touchless disposal of trash


The only cans I could find that incorporated these features were very expensive. It is unrealistic to expect parks departments to pay exorbitant sums in order to replace the cans in one seaside location.

Proposed Solution​

I have created a prototype for a low-cost garbage bin with the desired features. This trash can has a removable cover that deflects rain, and a side door for trash removal. If the municipality opts to utilize bags, they can be removed easily. If they choose not to use bags, which is better for the environment, the can would effectively retain the garbage. I also chose a blue can with a red cover, so it would be easily spotted, even from a distance. Specific desired features were:

  • Keeps garbage in until collected

  • Doesn’t vacuum seal the bag in the can

  • Works with or without a bag

  • Won’t blow away in the wind

  • Cost-effective

  • Keeps out the rain

  • Seagulls can't enter

  • Conspicuous color

  • Touchless disposal of trash (more hygienic)

  • Ability to insert a large piece of trash (removable cover)

Initial Prototype

Created using Tinkercad

Screen Shot 2022-11-26 at 11.48.39 PM.png
Measurable Effects​

Success of the installation of the newly designed garbage can be measured by:

  • Comparing the number of pieces of garbage in a given seaside area before and after the installation of the new cans.

  • Comparing the amount of time visitors spend at the location before and after installation- are people staying longer now that it is cleaner?

  • Surveying visitors to see if they are more satisfied with the new cans.

Unknowns to Research

Further research should be done to determine the best materials for creating a garbage can that is cost-effective yet durable. It should be light enough to be easily emptied whether or not bags are used. However, if the can is too light, a mechanism to secure the can to the ground must be considered. Sanitation department officials and environmentalists should be interviewed as part of this research in order to ascertain whether bags should be used and how cans should be emptied.


I presented this design to classmates and professors for feedback. The most constructive criticism was:

  • Disposing of the old cans would lead to my contributing to the garbage problem.

  • The design does not offer enough of a change that would convince stakeholders to update or replace the existing cans.

  • Using a cheaper material would also mean a shortened life expectancy for the cans, which would mean they would have to be replaced.


I presented my design to an engineer and was told that:

  • The roundness of the cover is not conducive to withstanding wind, especially if I am using a lighter material; therefore a design with more flat surfaces and angles should be utilized. Loosely swinging doors on all four sides that would allow wind to pass through should also be considered.

  • Slits need to be added to the bottom of the can so any rain water that inevitably gets in the can will seep out onto the ground.


Based on the feedback, I reconsidered my solution. Rather than designing an entire trash can, I concluded that it would be more efficacious to create a removable lid that can clip on to the existing cans. The lid will be domed, but with many flat surfaces to allow for wind to flow over it rather than knocking it off. I will also incorporate the engineer's solution and add openings with flaps on all sides. Since only a lid will need to be produced, more money can be utilized to invest in a durable material. In response to the problem of garbage seeping through the holes in the side, I would counsel town officials to use bags inside the cans that are checked regularly and emptied when necessary. I would also place a QR code on the side of the can that can be scanned by visitors to inform the sanitation department that the can is full and alert them that a new bag is needed in between regularly scheduled pickups.

Screen Shot 2022-11-26 at 11.49_edited.jpg
iPhone 12, 12 Pro – 1.png
iPhone 12, 12 Pro – 2.png
iPhone 12, 12 Pro – 3.png
bottom of page