Garbage is a small exploration in the realm of policy, communication, technology and the affect of systems. It plays with participation and cooperation, group pressure, personification and depersonification, around a communal problem.

Rotterdam waste managent works with underground garbage containers for the disposal of small household waste.
The containers are scattered throughout the neighbourhoods and typically serve a somewhat fixed clientele; the inhabitants in their direct vicinity. The containers are emptied on a semi fixed interval. Quite often the containers are full or stuck. A problem often only to be noticed when someone has already taken the time and effort to take their garbage to the container in question. Some will take their garbage back home, some will dump their garbage next to the container. Once garbage is dumped, more follows. Irritation, outrage and blaming ensues.


The design consists of a feedback system, an (almost) arbitrary sensor fitted in the garbage containers, and a notification / input device: the Garbage Globe.

The sensor gives the signal of ‘full’ or ‘empty again’. Representing the begin and end phase of a cycle, respectively. Per cycle, half of the input devices; the Garbage Globes, will get the notification / signal that the container is full, when its full. Which devices will receive the signal is at random, but the configuration / composition of what makes up half of the devices will stay the same for one cycle.
Every device given the ‘full’ signal is granted, through user action, the possibly to transmit this signal to all other devices. The ones given the initial ‘full’ signal, and the ones that were not. The signal signals ‘full’ but is distinct from the signal ‘full’ initially transmitted by the container sensor. Once transmitted to all devices, the devices will emit this signal until the end phase of the cycle. In the end phase of the cycle, the container is emptied and the signal of ‘empty again’ is now signalled to the other half of the devices. The ones that didn’t receive the initial ’full’ signal from the container sensor. The same rule set / interaction / process applies.

A communal problem is abstracted and depersonified, but kept in the community.
In fact, the community is more or less constantly reminded about the fact that it could become a problem and is asked for participation. The system communicates the fact that people know the container is ‘full’ or ‘empty again’. Once the signal is transmitted through user action, the ones that didn’t know yet what was up, will not know in which device group they are. All that is known is the state of the container and the fact that someone from your community knows this, and transmitted the signal. The receiver will, or might have to be, the transmitter in the end phase.

The framing of the project itself, and the artefact; the Garbage Globe, were made focussing on crafting something with a personal touch, while staying impersonal.
The houses contributing to the project were given a persona, but still facade the participants. The Garbage Globe brings the actual container spot ‘inside’, but still detaches the problem from the actual spot / inhabitants.


The Garbage Globe is a variant on the ‘snow globe’. In the center there is a depiction of an underground garbage container, within its natural context. The snow is replaced by pieces of stylised garbage. In rest, the garbage will accumulate on and around the container.
The mode of interaction, the user action, is by shaking the globe. Swinging the garbage in the air; temporarily ‘freeing’ the container.

Peter Kalkman

Garbage Globe
Globe in context