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Smart Labeling and Geo-referenced Bin Finding App

Smartphone app that reads labels, or detects what an item is from a photograph, and informs user nearest bin to dispose of the item.

Photo of Keith Alverson
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In Osaka, Japan the culture of waste separation and recycling is very strong. For example lids are labeled separately from cups and most households separate them appropriately.  Even here though a lot of plastic falls through the cracks.  The idea is to develop a smartphone app that will read labels and inform the user what the item is and - with a link to google maps - indicate where the nearest place to dispose of it is and how to get there (a database of geo-referenced disposal sites would be a nice side benefit). The app could possibly eventually also recognize items with no label (as shazam for plants works for example by photographing leaves). This app would be available in multiple languages - to ensure immigrants and tourists can also use it (understanding the actual labels on plastic products in Japan requires knowledge of Japanese). The App could be rolled out in particular at large events with many tourists - such as the world cup of rugby hosted by Osaka next year, and in 2020 the Olympics in Tokyo - where special geo-referenced bins could be installed (also with app readable labels on them).  The App would be coded open source, as would the database of labels, so as to eventually be able to be expanded to other cities and countries with their own labeling schemes, or other large spectator facilities and events.  Two relevant and complementary existing Apps were found in research: the city of Osaka "ThreeR" waste app (all in Japanese, informs collection dates for different types of waste by location) and 'Literati' which allows for photographing litter and getting 'credit' for cleaning it up.  Neither App fills the niche proposed.

How does this Idea redesign unrecyclable small format plastic items that often end up as waste?

This app assists in recycling small format items such as coffee cup lids, and many others, by recognizing them - using labels or a photograph - and informing the user the easiest/nearest appropriate recycle bin location.

Which use cases does your Idea apply to?

We will begin with Osaka, Japan, possibly targeting a large sporting event such as world cup of Rugby in 2019. The app would however be open source and useful in any location.

How do you envision scaling up your Idea?

By coding the app open source and making it freely available, while demonstrating its usefulness at the city level in Osaka, particularly when many tourists from other countries are present.

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Research & Early Testing: You are exploring an idea, gathering inspiration and information needed to test it with real users.

Please describe how becoming a Top Idea and working with the Think Beyond Plastics Accelerator Program will help to accelerate your solution.

Becoming a top idea would be motivational. Three of our team members working full time at UN Environment, Osaka City Government and Google would be encouraged to develop the idea further under the leadership of the fourth team member who could potentially be concentrating on this project.

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

Playing Pokemon-Go (with georeferenced pokestops not unlike recycle bins in some ways) followed by brainstorm.

Tell us about your work experience

Keith: Bachelor of Engineering Science(Princeton U, 1988) PhD Physical Oceanography (MIT, 1995) 15 years work experience in United Nations. Other team members: Osaka City, Google and To Be Determined.

Please describe your legal and organizational structure



Join the conversation:

Photo of Troy Gardner

This might also apply to inside a remake facility, where say a toaster made of many different metals needs to be machine OCR readible to separate into piles.

Photo of OpenIDEO

Hi Keith Alverson  interesting post!
Any chance you could find an image to go along with it? Images help grab attention and tell a story. You should be able to use the Edit Contribution button on the top of your post and follow the instructions to add images from there. Looking forward to seeing more of your inspiring insights on OpenIDEO.

Photo of Keith Alverson

OK. I added a graphic. Another good graphic would be a pokemon-go stop. Recycle bins should be geo-referenced and 'findable' with the app like pokemon stops.