Designing Poplar: A more intentional indoor compost bin

Designing Poplar: A more intentional indoor compost bin

The Poplar Smart Bin is beautiful. There. We said it. And it’s beautiful, not just because we compiled a team of world-renowned designers to improve upon a product that has – for all intents and purposes – not been improved upon for decades, if not centuries; but because designing a beautiful bin was a necessary step towards achieving our goals of making composting accessible. 

Accessibility, however, goes far beyond just how beautiful the Poplar Smart Bin is. Accessibility – and ultimately the development of sustainable habits – is rooted in making the experience with Poplar seamless and taking that experience beyond the kitchen to ensure that whatever is left from your meals can be reintroduced back into the food cycle where it belongs.  

This required not just numerous considerations from the perspective of design of the bin, but the addition & design of the Smart Base, and with that the design & creation of the Impact Tracker, and the design & development of the Hauler Directory by extension of that.  

So while, yes, we did originally set out with the intention of designing a beautiful bin, what we ultimately found ourselves designing was a beautiful ecosystem for our food systems to help people better connect to not just their food, but their impact on the environment, as well as their communities.  

Why Composting & Why Impact Tracking  

Sometimes it may feel like we as individuals have little power in making a positive impact in the face of the current climate situation. Rather than focusing on what we can’t do, we decided to focus on the actions that we as individuals can take that matter. 

According to Project Drawdown, reducing food waste is the most effective way for our world to combat climate change. While there are many things that need to be done to reduce food waste on a large scale by our governments and supply chains, there is a lot that we as individuals and local communities can do to ensure that food isn’t being wasted. Composting - the natural process of recycling organic matter, such as food scraps, into a valuable fertilizer that can enrich soil and plants - is one of the best ways to do this. 

At Poplar, we knew that we wanted to create a product that helps people take individual action, reducing the carbon footprint of our communities. We also wanted to let you follow the positive impact that individual habit has on the planet. Hence, we created the Poplar Smart Bin.   

Creating a Bin for everyone 

Poplar is for everyone, wherever you may be on your composting journey. We knew that we wanted to make an elevated accessible bin for everyone regardless of whether they have been composting for years or just starting. While only 4% of the US composts, we believe that with a beautiful, user-centered product & carefully nurtured connections to local, accessible systems, composting can become the new norm. 

We chatted with folks like you about their kitchens, composting journeys, and their interactions with food waste in their own kitchens.  

Through these conversations we saw that people keep their countertop bin in the area that they do the most food prep, so its design and functionality matter. Our expert design team set out on a mission to elevate the kitchen compost bin to a countertop icon that fits into your kitchen (both practically and aesthetically).  

Each and every decision that was made in creating the Poplar Smart Bin was made with humans in mind to increase accessibility and cut down on the burdens that prevent so many of us from making an impact through the process of composting. 

Key Features of the Poplar Smart Bin 

The key design elements of the Poplar Smart Bin are as follows -  

The Filtered Lid:  

Inside the lid of the Poplar Smart Bin, you will find a carbon filter to keep odors out. Most of the carbon filters on other countertop bins are coal powder baked into a plastic sponge. Our carbon filter is made from activated carbon coconut shells, a natural waste product, stuffed in a natural fiber cloth. While we recommend replacing your filter every 6 months, they can last for up to a year, though we have found that tossing them in with your compost once they no longer pass the sniff test is the best practice to adopt.  

The Lid Rest:

When cooking, sometimes you find that you don’t have enough hands or countertop space to manage all the different things going on. The Poplar Smart Bin’s lid has a knob that conveniently rests on the side of the bin when not in use. This way, when you are cooking you can throw whatever food waste in the bin and not have to worry about lifting the lid each time or it taking up precious counterspace while you chop & prep. 

The Silicone Handle:  

Our silicone handle is designed to make lifting the bin effortless and easy. The handle is soft on your hands, easy on the eyes, but robust enough to last years of washing & daily use.  

The Smart Bin: 

The stylish 1-gallon body of the Poplar Smart Bin ensures that you'll never have to pause mid meal prep to empty scraps — equal parts posh and practical. While larger families may find they need to empty their bin more frequently, couples & individuals should only ever need to empty their bins a small number of times each week between drop offs or pickups from their local curbside service.  

The Smart Base: 

The Smart Base is not just the home for your Poplar Smart Bin in your kitchen, but the connection between you and your impact data.  While simple to move when needed, the Smart Base was designed to act as a place for your bin to rest between uses — though the Smart Bin is just as easy to use when on the base as it is off the base.  

When docked, your Smart Bin will communicate directly with your Impact Tracker app every 15 minutes in order to share insights about how much food waste you've diverted, and the impact you've made in the process — allowing us to form better, more meaningful habits with our consumption. And while the base does run on battery, it updates in 15 minute intervals in order to minimize power consumption to optimize time between charges and avoid having to be an “always plugged in” device.  

Materials and End of Life 

With its infinitely recyclable aluminum body, the countertop bucket can have many lives — even when it's done living in your kitchen. The choice of making the Smart Bin out of aluminum was a conscious one — and for several reasons. For one, aluminum is easier to repeatedly wash without concerns of microplastics seeping into our water supply, or worse – our food systems – with the inside of the bin being thoughtfully coated to create a surface that your food scraps will slide right off and out of the bin when emptying. Aluminum also offers a more robust construction for a space that is often prone to slips, spills, and drops. Often sitting near counter edges, our kitchen knives, and stovetops, the aluminum construction of the Smart Bin allows you to prep confidently knowing that it won't crack, melt, or otherwise get damaged during your mealtime routines. 
The lid itself is 15% recycled plastic and, unlike the water bottles that you throw into your blue bin, can be recycled 2-3 times before ending up in the landfill. With the inclusion of the compostable filter & ability to be taken apart for regular cleaning, there’s no need to worry about unsavory smells seeping into the materials of the lid or getting into an endless cycle of waste through having to purchase disposable filters. 

Designed for impact 

And there you have it! A waste-less bin for food waste that shows the beauty of making positive contributions as a part of your daily food rituals and makes it easy for anyone to get started on their composting journey. While other bins are – just that – just a bin, the Poplar Smart Bin aims to earn its name through being a smarter, more seamless solution to your kitchen composting needs. No moving parts that can be easily damaged, no wasteful plastics that will absorb smells, just a smarter way to compost at home.  

What should we redesign next? 

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