Mobile app designed by Dr Lyle Fearnley for informal recycling sector wins two awards for good design

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Jacqueline Poh, Deputy Secretary, Prime Minister’s Office, Singapore and Andrew Pang, President, Design Business Chamber Singapore, present the SG Mark award to Dr Fearnley


HASS faculty Dr. Lyle Fearnley, along with collaborators from SUTD’s Lee Kuan Yew Center for Innovative Cites, has been presented with two awards for the development of Honk! (环宝), an app for mobile phones designed to support Singapore’s heritage recycling economy, traditionally known as the karung guni trade. The Honk! app aims to simultaneously increase the domestic recycling rate and improve economic opportunities for small-scale, often elderly recycling entrepreneurs.

Fearnley led the design and development of the Honk! app, with funding from the SUTD-MIT International Design Centre. Since 2017, Fearnley and his research team conducted anthropological fieldwork and design workshops that uncovered the challenges and potentials in the contemporary karung guni trade. Drawing on these research insights, Fearnley and collaborators designed a mobile app that creates new digital connections and virtual marketplaces linking karung guni traders and household residents.


The Honk! (环宝) app, showing items listed for collection by karung guni in map view


In March this year, the Design Business Chamber Singapore (DBCS) awarded Honk! an SG Mark, referred to as Singapore’s “benchmark of good design and quality.” At the DBCS Gala Dinner in May, the DBCS also awarded Honk! an SG Mark Special Mention, awarded to only four projects in 2019 (

Remarkably, around 90% of Singapore’s domestic recycled waste is collected by informal karung guni, not government-contracted Public Waste Collectors (PWCs).  Yet many still believe the karung guni is a ‘vanishing trade’ that will be unable to keep up with rising transport costs and emerging technologies. Fearnley and collaborators designed and built Honk! to challenge the assumption that traditional trades and technological futures can’t be put together.

Karung guni travel block to block, honking their iconic hand-held horn to notify residents of their presence. Honk!, built for Android and Apple iOS devices, utilizes cellular network technology to allow households and karung guni to connect and initiate trades in the data ‘cloud’.  With GPS to provide location data for both karung guni and households, photo snap-posting of items, notification ‘honks’ and advance scheduling, the Honk! app expands and streamlines the karung guni economy for the digital era.