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App or Website to Verify Local Recyclability

Not knowing if a particular item - for instance number 7 plastic - can be recycled in a particular location keeps people from participating. A location-aware app (think geo-fencing) or website with locale searching could guide consumers on the availability of recycling for the different materials in the city or county in which they are currently standing.

Photo of Jacque Harper

Written by

Explain your idea in one sentence

The "Can I Recycle It?" app tells you if the container you're holding can be recycled in the town that you're standing in, right now, whether you're at home or visiting.
An app or website, with connections to data--in all locations that are possible!--so that consumers can know definitively if the item they wish to recycle will be properly recycled "here" or if it will only junk up the recycling stream.
It will work best when there is wide coverage, but like apps that show local public transit information, it can start locally and grow.
 

Describe how your idea would help form new habits and improve recycling at home

Even though, or perhaps because I'm in a big city, I'm never completely sure if certain kinds of materials (especially the plastics) are going to be recycled properly. This app or website would contain information on recycling capabilities by locale (city, county, etc). By simply using my current location (ZIP or postal code, geo-location, location by cell phone tower etc.) and entering the type of material I am wondering about, the app could tell me "recycle it" or "trash it." People using the app would be more comfortable that they are doing the right thing: recycling materials that are acceptable, not dumping non-recyclables into the recycling stream.

How might you design an early, lightweight experiment to further develop your idea?

An app could be rolled out easily in a small location to start with. The concept could be tested in low-tech formats - printed materials for just a single area. And users/potential users could be interviewed to confirm the validity of the idea.

What aspects of your idea could benefit from the input of our OpenIDEO community?

Knowing if there are APIs for local recycling programs which could be connected to by the app. Ideating on ways to make geo-fenced information seem less spying-on-you-creepy and more helpful.

12 comments

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Photo of Jes Simson
Team

Hey Jacque, this is a great idea. I definitely think we could work towards a great solution with Kenneth and Paul. I like the idea to use the recycling symbols on the products themselves rather than the barcode (this is proving quite difficult to us this to link to recycling info). Are these symbols easy to see on products in the US? In Australia, this information is often embossed onto the clear plastic so it is often really difficult to work out what the number actually is.

I also like your idea to prototype this using printed materials.

Photo of Jacque Harper
Team

Added Kenneth Walton to my team for this idea. But I'm also wondering if there is a way to combine ideas here on the OpenIDEO site ... it could be we are getting to a really good idea combining a number of features from our separate contributions. All good!

Photo of Jes Simson
Team

I agree Jacque - these ideas would all work really well together

Photo of Paul Bearman
Team

The numbers on the plastics would be a great way to sort plastic but unfortunately it's not possible, a number 7 plastic, for example can used/made in a variety of different ways, some can be recycled locally, some not, a nightmare & minefield!

Maybe if there was a new number system that did mean something that'd work?

Photo of Jacque Harper
Team

I really doubt we can change the numbering systems . . . but knowing if the plastic I'm holding, which has a "3" or a "5" or whatever embossed on it, can be recycled here in my neighborhood/city/county/whatever is exactly what would help me with my recycling.
Maybe things are different where you live, Paul, but my experience is that recycling bins are often labeled as to which types of plastic--by number--go in which bin. But the company that picks up recycling in my building just says "put it all here." Does that mean that they actually sort it? Or does the unrecyclable #7 pollute the recycling stream coming out of my apartment? That's what I'd like to know!
Cheers!

Photo of Jes Simson
Team

I agree - don't think they will change the numbering system (although it seems to be a bit of a nightmare!). Perhaps this means that users could use the numbers to find out how to recycle certain products for certain areas in the USA where numbers are actually used? I doubt there's going to be a system that works globally - we might need to think about what solutions could work for different locations.

Photo of Paul Bearman
Team

There are some Local Authorities in the UK that do say 'we collect numbers 1 & 2' (for example) but maybe less than 1% of the total. For most it's just plastic bottles or 'tubs & trays'. Have you seen http://1800recycling.com/ in the US? Like Recycleopedia, and possibly further along the road with app.

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