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UPDATED 20 June: How do I recycle this? An app to arm people with recycling know- how (and a why and a where)

The app arms users with knowledge about how they can recycle household items.

Photo of Jes Simson
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Explain your idea in one sentence

An app arming users with knowledge about how they can recycle household items ... and then giving them a reason why they should recycle.


Update 20 June

  • new sketches showing how the app will function (see images above and attached PDF).
  • how to collect information required for app to function (including via outreach to companies, community organisaitons, councils and invidual recycling warriors).
  • increasing rewards - incentivising users to recycle
  • keeping users up to date with changes

Update 21 May:


  • finding easy ways for the user to input packaging materials
  • showing where you can recycle
  • making the app more engaging



Collecting up to date recycling information

One of the largest barriers to implimentation is the need to access accurate local recycling information.  I think we can overcome these challenges in a number of ways:

  • Reaching out to local councils / recycling centers so that they provide the appropriate local recycling knowledge.  Recycling centers and councils spend an enormous amount of energy and resources sending waste to landfill sites and sorting out incorrectly disposed recyclable materials.  Reach out to councils and recycling process plants to provide local recycling information.   We would also need an automatic review system / trigger to ensure that councils / recycling centers notify us when recycling procedures change in a local area. 
  • Reaching out to local organisations and companies who accept recyclable materials and asking them to upload their recycling information.  In Australia, a number of local organisations (like opportunity / charity / thrift stores) accept a range of used goods.  A number of retailers will also recycle e-waste on your behalf (for instance, Harvey Norman accepts old tv's and Officeworks accepts old computers).
  • Reaching out to individual recycling warriors - superstar recyclers who are in our community - to (1) update recycling information; (2) updating materials that the app doesn't cover; (3) updating the app with creative ways the materials could be recycled (eg: links to Pintrest upcylce pages as per Suzie's great suggestion below).  These individual recycling warriors could be incentivised through a similar ratings / star system as Amazon / Yelp reviewers. 
  • Community organisaitons, companies and the council will be able to update information via a web portal

Most of these inputs require the app to have a critical mass to provide the incentives to volunteer information.  Until then, we will need to source this informaiton and update manually. 

Path towards gaining critical mass

  • Start locally - pick one area that has a large enough population to support the app (Paul Bearman has done this masterfully with, Timmy has also shown via that this could work really well in the Netherlands.)  Build local support for the app then if it starts to gain traction, you can slowly step it out across a wider geographic area.  

Incentivising people to recycle

  • With information ... So far I've focused on arming people with a bit of knoweldge about what a piece of recycled material can become and the impact that recycling has (eg: a piece of plastic can become a sleeping bag / recycling this bottle will save this amount of energy).  This is pretty similar to Kennith Watson's great idea over here: and Goder's fantastic idea over here:  
  • with a bit of fun and humour: The app can also use push notifications to humorously encourage you to engage with recycling a bit more - eg: if it notices that you haven't used the app for a while, it could send you fun facts about products that you probably didn't know could be recycled.  Shane Zhao had a great interactive idea on how to increase engagement over here:  
  • with free stuff from the people whose products you are recycling ... Given that we will be able to tell whose items are being recycled where data is input via the barcode (we're going to know that it's a 1.25 LT Coke can) - the app could also send out promotions to the person who has the app.  Eg: Coke could start a promotion that for every 10 coke bottles recycled, coke will give you a voucher for one free coke.  Coke could also provide incentives to get friends using the app - eg: the more friends you sign up and who actually use the app, the more free stuff you get.  "Free stuff" could also inlcude rewards that consumers cannot ordinarily buy, like VIP festival tickets or even coke cans with your name on it (

Push notifications

The app will send the user push notificiations indicating when local recycling laws change in their area so that the user can adjust their behaviour.



I have updated a couple of features of the app:

A. Finding easy ways for the user to input packaging materials  

I've come up with three possible solutions to enable users to easily tell the app what packaging material they are trying to recycle. 

  • (1) a barcode links up to supplier data to extract packaging material information;
    • PROS: relatively easy to use - fewer steps for the user - universality if we can link barcodes with packaging material
    • CONS: barcodes are too narrow for a smart phone to read / packaging without a barcode - difficulty linking barcode with packaging data, how do we get suppliers on board?  Shoudl this come from a national supermarket who has the power to insist on this?
  • (2) the user inputs the data by chosing a product family (glass, plastics, paper, fabric etc), the app then prompts the user to narrow down their choice (eg: type 4 plastic, waxed cardboard etc) -this is similar to a program in France
    • PROS: Relatively easy for the user to input data (so long as the information is structured in a user friendly way)
  • (3) the user types in the product name (eg: 375  mm coke can) and the app links this with packaging material or the user inputs the packaging type (eg: aluminium can).
    • PROS:  could be really accurate (like the barcode) 
    • CONS: Requires good autofill results - including mispellings etc; requires a lot of data; requires a lot of user effort.

While a QR code would work technologically, getting that much lable space across every singe recyclable products isn't particularly feasible. 


B. Showing you where you can recycle 

Showing people where they can recycle certain items.  So ... I quickly realised that some people don't have recycling bins.  There are also a host of things that generally can't be recycled with domestic pick ups (appliances, batteries, clothing etc) - so I've included a feature that tells people where their closest Recycling point for that particular material is. 


C. Super engaging

I'm also really aware that this app really needs to engage people through its visuals and tone of voice if it is going to change the hearts and minds of people.  I've included lines like " Thanks for recyling that paper label.  When it grows up, it wants to become a comfy chair.  It doesn't fancy becoming a loo roll."

You could also have an option to chose your tone of voice - similar to Google's Art, Copy and Code " Talking Shoe"

I really like Shane Zhao's use of recycled movie quotes in push notifications to remind people to recycle over at his  Recycleminder idea (" Life is like a recycling, you never know what you're going to get."Recycled from Forrest Gump)

Any help with forging an engageing tone of voice and visuals would be greatly appreciated. 



The Problem

Recycling can be really confusing.  It shouldn't be.  This complexity makes behavioural change really difficult.  

It is often unclear how you should recycle composite and mixed materials.    People get confused about how to recycle different types of plastic.  Different suburbs often have completely different recycling rules.  This leads to frustration and poor recycling habits. 

IDEA: An app to help people work out how to recycle packaging in their local area

This app aims to give people a clear answer on how to recycle different packaging goods in their local area.  

In a few easy steps, users will be armed with recycling knowledge: 


(1) Scan the product's barcode

(2) Confirm your postcode

(3) The app will tell you how to recycle the product's different packaging materials in your local area.

Arming people with knowledge 

The app aims to arm people with the knowledge they need to recycle well.  You go to it when you are confused or confronted with a new product (eg: you're confused about how to recycle the various components of a readymeal).  

Although this information is generally available on council or waste management websites, it is usually burried in a labryinth of dead links and confusing language.  This app aims to make this relevant information clear and easily accessible.  

When your council changes their recycling rules, the app can send you  push notifications to alert you.  Equally, when you move areas, the app could send you notifications about the key differences in recycling rules. 

Easy to use and a little bit joyful

To ensure usefullness, the app needs to be really easy to use and minimise the steps (and time) needed to find information.  

Given that recycling is pretty mundane and unpersonable, the app needs to engage people.  Microinteractions / interface etc. could be a bit joyful / quirky / personable to engage users. 

Partnerhsips required 

This app would rely on linking information about a product's packaging materials with its barcode (alternatively, companies could use a QR code).  

The app would also rely on getting area specific recycling rules from councils.  I'm not sure whether this can easily be mined from council websites or whether councils would have to submit information.  

Any thoughts?

If you have any thoughts about how to improve this idea, please comment below.  I'd really appreciate the input.  


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

The app aims to give users location specific knowledge about how they can recycle at home. Armed with this knowledge, recycling should be easier, which will hopefully lead to behavioural change.

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

UPDATE: Check out the very basic prototype at: I've engage using tone of voice - let me know whether you think this will engage or annoy people. The graphics were done using powerpoint - so they are pretty basic. Any pointers on how to improve the graphics to amp up engagement would be greatly appreciated. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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

I'd really appreciate some input from someone in the FMCG sector on whether it's feasible to easily link up barcodes or QR codes with that products composite packaging materials. Equally, if anyone knows how you could easily access information about how these materials can be locally recycled. Should you go to the council / to the waste management company?

Evaluation results

11 evaluations so far

1. How well do you think this idea will create new habits for the people involved?

Really well. I can see it creating lasting behavioural changes - 63.6%

The idea is pretty good but I’m not sure it will make new habits - 36.4%

Not sure the idea would really help people establish long-lasting habits - 0%

2. Can the idea be scaled to work in different countries and with different people?

Yes – it’s clear how the idea could be adopted by people from far and wide - 27.3%

Seems like it could work but needs some fleshing out - 63.6%

I don’t think it could be easily used in different locations - 9.1%

3. Can the idea be used regardless of the local recycling schemes?

Yes – it doesn’t seem to rely on a particular collection scheme - 54.5%

Possibly – although it might work better under some schemes rather than others - 45.5%

I think it might only work under particular circumstances - 0%

4. How easy would it be to pilot a version of the idea to test it out?

Really easy – ways to test this idea further are already springing to mind - 36.4%

Piloting this idea would be possible but it could take a lot of time and resources - 63.6%

A pilot doesn’t seem easy at this point - 0%

5. Overall, how do you feel about this concept?

It rocked my world - 54.5%

I liked it but preferred others - 36.4%

It didn’t get me too excited - 9.1%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Julie Byrnes

Hi Jess, we came across your app in doing some browsing for our first Lego league robotics project research. Part of our competition is to come up with an innovative solution and when we were looking to see if ours idea already existed we came across your site. Our idea it has similarities but also many many differences. I was wondering if you would be able to correspond with us by email or teleconference because part of our research requires that we reach out to express or other people with similar ideas. Would you be willing to talk with us? Our team consists of Nine kids fourth through sixth grade. Any help you could give us would be appreciated. Thank you.

Photo of Jes Simson

Hi Julie, absolutely, happy to help. I live in Australia, so email is probably easiest with time differences ( This is also only an idea, it hasn't been shipped. Good luck with the robotics project!

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