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Bottles for Smiles. One for One

Bottles for Smiles is a one-for-one program that works to transfer the positive impacts of consumer recycling to benefit the needs of low-income families. It is widely understood that recycling has a positive long term impact on the environment by reducing waste, reducing energy, and reducing pollution. But what is the positive social impact that recycling can have on improving the immediate quality of life for people in need? Through partnerships with such philanthropic organizations as the Coca Cola Foundation, the energy offsets from recycling can be matched with donations of subsidized or free electricity units to people in low-income households.

Photo of Shane Zhao
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Explain your idea in one sentence

With every item that you recycle, Bottles for Smiles will provide the equivalent amount of electricity saved to help improve the lives of a family in need.


20 May 2014  Incorporated Koroline's feedback about Bottles for Smiles as a campaign and the importance of using renewable energy to help beneficiaries.
30 May 2014  Uploaded prototype of Bottles for Smiles logo and process map.
08 June 2014  Uploaded prototyping photos. Added Implementation Strategy and Prototyping & Feedback sections.
08 June 2014  Updated process map. Added Implementation Strategy and Prototyping & Feedback sections.
10 June 2014  Updated user feedback. Added potential Cause Partners. Added institutional partners with feedback from Bettina.
13 June 2014 Added funding strategy to Brand Partner section. Incorporated Robert's suggestion of using smart interactive bins as part of the campaign.
18 June 2014
  Identified Problem, Insight, and Solution

One for One

  • 1 330ml aluminum can = 2.5 light bulb hours
  • 1 newspaper = 5.5 light bulb hours
  • 1 500 ml plastic bottle = 0.5 light bulb hours

Online metrics tools such as Coca Cola and WRAP's Recyclometer have made it easy to understand how much energy is saved with each item that is recycled. If we can quantify the positive impact that recycling has on the environment, can we also quantify the positive social impact that recycling can have on improving the quality of people's lives? What if we are able to transfer the amount of  energy that we save through recycling to benefit those that do not have access to reliable electricity? What if for every bottle that we recycle we can help keep the lights on for a family in need?

Bottle for Smiles can humanize the act of recycling by allowing people to understand the process on a one to one level. One-for-one donation programs made famous by such brands as TOMS and Warby Parker have proven to be successful business models that are built upon people's desire to do good and feel good. Recycling can achieve the same thing.

Bottles for Smiles One for One would be delivered through a partnership between a commercial brand and a social enterprise. For example, Coca Cola Enterprises can incentivize its consumer recycling efforts by providing matching funds to help d.light distribute free solar lanterns to beneficiaries in areas without access to the electric grid.

I. People often perceive recycling as a process  that happens on a macro level. Many individuals believe that it will take tons of recycling over the course of many years in order to make a difference on the world.  Often, users are not personally invested in recycling as a cause because they do not understand how waste reduction can directly improve the well-being of someone's life in the short-term.
II. Energy poverty is a challenge that affects nearly one quarter of the world's population. Today more than 1.2 billion people still live without access to electricity. Another 2.8 billion people still depend on unclean and unsafe fuel sources. Widespread recycling efforts can help alleviate this challenge when the energy conserved through waste reduction can be transferred to those in need.
Key Insight
People feel good about helping to save the environment, but they feel Great when they can improve someone's life.  
Bottles for Smiles can incentivize people to adopt recycling as a social responsibility by linking the reduction of waste to the alleviation of energy poverty.  Recycling can become a human-centered habit that is socially impactful on the quality of life for someone in need.


Prototyping & Feedback

Prototyping Campaign at Citi-Bank Plaza 
To prototype the campaign, I transformed an existing recycling bin at Citi-Bank Plaza in San Francisco into a Bottles for Smiles collection station. Signage with messaging and graphic logos were added to the existing recycling bin for this simulation. Bottles for Smiles stickers were placed next to the signage for people to take. I made observations as a standby and then engaged myself as an Bottles for Smiles Ambassador.

People Share the Unexpected  A few of the users took out their smart phones and took snapshots of the Bottles for Smiles collection station. One gentleman replied that he found the simulation to be unexpected and wanted to take a picture to share with his friends. This made me realize that the Bottles for Smiles Campaign has the potential to become buzz worthy when users share their experiences with friends over social media.
A Spokesman Helps  Some users did not pause to look at the messaging as they tossed their items into the bin as they passed by. One lady responded that she actually wouldn't have thought twice about the mockup if I did not stop her to ask. This made me realize that standalone collection stations can be passive. Having a spokes person or an "Ambassador" can add legitimacy to the campaign.
Hearing Stories Matter  When giving feedback about the prototype, users often pointed to the photo of the smiling kids and asked to hear more about who the beneficiaries will be. Putting a face behind the smiles matter.
Bolder Graphics Needed  Users commented that the signage did not grab their attention from far away. Bolder colors and larger fonts should be used.
Keep me Updated  Users commented that if implemented, they would like to receive updates on how their contribution has made a difference. Simply dropping off a bottle in the bin was not meaningful enough to them
Bring it to Schools  One mother expressed that she can see Bottles for Smiles be used as a teaching tool at her son's elementary school.
Stickers Rock!  Positive feedback were given about the Bottle for Smiles stickers. The stickers were a good way to show gratitude towards the users for their feedback in participating in the prototype. Users found the stickers to be good conversation starters.
Prototyping Campaign at the Workplace
For part two of the prototyping process, I mocked up the campaign simulation in my office. The Bottles for Smiles signage was placed next to the recycling station in the kitchen.
Corporate Sponsorship  A coworker commented that Bottle for Smiles can be integrated into a company's community outreach program. Many corporations encourage their employees to participate in community service days and may be interested in integrating Bottles for Smiles into their workplace. Employee's recycling efforts at work can be matched with financial donations from their employers to the campaign.
Feeling Good to Feeling Great  Today, my coworker offered me a great piece of insight when she asked me about how my Bottles for Smiles project was going. She said that when she recycles, she usually feels good about saving the environment. But she would feel Great knowing that she can help improve a life when she recycles for a cause
Prototyping Social Platform-User Scenarios
Mr. Henderson's Story
Mr. Henderson is a 5th grade science teacher who has just introduced a new recycling component into his lesson plans for the year. After one week of explaining the product life cycle and cost-benefits of recycling, Mr. Henderson noticed that his class was mildly engaged with his lectures. One day his student Katie raised her hand and asked, "Mr. Henderson I know recycling saves the environment, but I don't know how big of a difference can make by recycling a few bottles. I'm just one person."
Over the weekend, Mr. Henderson thought about Katie's question and decided to revamp his recycling curriculum with the Bottles for Smiles platform that he had came upon previously through his research.
On Monday, Mr. Henderson came into class and asked his students to each make a profile on Bottles for Smiles. Instead of a mid-term report, his students were given the option of documenting their recycling activities on Bottles for Smiles and then give a presentation on the impact that they had made.
On presentation day after three weeks, Mr. Henderson was happily surprised as his class shared their carefully documented recycling accomplishments through photos that they had uploaded onto the Bottles for Smiles webpage. His students were not only enthusiastic about the impact that they had made in someone's lives, they were also proud to showcase their new expertise on the cost-benefits of each recycled item.  After class, Katie came up to Mr. Henderson and said, "Mr. Henderson, now every time when I see an empty bottle I feel obligated to recycle it because I know that it will keep someone's lights on at night."
Susan's Story
Susan is a single mother in an low-income neighborhood of Phoenix, Arizona who works two jobs to support her two kids. Despite great efforts to conserve energy costs, her electricity bill still amounts to nearly $100 per month. Compounded over an entire year, her household electricity bill is over $1200. This may not be a substantial bill for most households, but Susan has to figure out how to cut back spending in other areas that would be beneficial to her kids.
After a conversation with a neighbor that also supports a family on a low-income salary, Susan learns of the Bottles for Smiles program and decides to give it a try. With help from her neighbor, Susan makes an profile on Bottles for Smiles and submits her tax information for qualification. Within less than a week, she receives news that she has been approved as a Bottles for Smiles beneficiary.
Over the next 6 months, Susan is overjoyed as her monthly electricity bills becomes  substantially reduced by the Bottles for Smiles subsidies. She uses her new savings to purchase new clothes and books for her kids. Susan herself even becomes a dedicated recycling advocate and teaches her kids to return the favor by bring smiles to others in need.  

Implementation Strategy

Cause-Brand Partnership 
The Bottles for Smiles campaign would be a joint venture between a commercial brand with an established recycling initiative and social enterprises with the capacity to provide low-income families with subsidized renewable energy. This commercial/ social enterprise partnership is similar to how TOMS has been working with its nonprofit Giving Partners to sustain distributions of shoes, eye care, and clean water to low-income communities. The cause-brand also resonates with Jes' Recycle for a Good Night's Sleep concept entry.

Brand Partner
The commercial brand partner would lead the campaign with marketing, fund-matching, and implementation efforts. Coca-Cola Enterprises, would be an ideal brand partner that can integrate Bottles for Smiles’ message into its ongoing recycling marketing and recycling collection channels. The brand partner would benefit from increased customer loyalty to its business and recycling initiatives. According to a study conducted by Millennial Marketing:
●71% of surveyed consumers said that they would be more likely to purchase from a company that supports a cause they care about.
●76% of surveyed consumers said they would think more highly of a company that helps them support a cause they care about.

Funding Impact 
The Bottles for Smiles fund matching for recycling can be made through the brand partner’s sister philanthropic foundations. Within recent years, many commercial corporations have set up philanthropic branches as an extension of their brand in the form of foundations or .orgs The Coca Cola Foundation, Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Nike Foundation, and are just a few examples of brands that have established entities for social impact. These foundations have a designated amount of funding that they must distribute annually. The commercial brand can integrate Bottles for Smiles into its marketing channels, while the fund matching can be made through the sister philanthropic foundation.  

Cause Partner
The Cause Partner(s) would apply funds raised by its Brand Partner to amplify its ongoing work with low-income communities. Instead of designating one organization, it is important to consider that the Cause Partner(s) should be a collective of non-profits/ social enterprises.The Cause partners can be identified based on their ability to impact areas with access to on-grid and off-grid energy. I've identified a few potential social enterprises that align with Bottle for Smile's mission.

Off-Grid Cause Partners
Greenlight Planet is social enterprise with the mission to bring clean and affordable energy access to villages in off-grid areas. They have a unique distribution channel in employing local villagers to penetrate hard to reach rural communities in Africa and India. Greenlight Planet's product line of Sun King solar home lights can be made even more affordable with funding from the Bottles for Smiles campaign.
d.light is also another great social enterprise that manufactures and distributes affordable solar lanterns to rural developing communities without access to reliable electricity.  
On-Grid Cause Partners
Citizens Energy Thanks to Bettina, I was brought to the attention of Citizens Energy. Since 1979, Citizens has been channeling revenues from commercial enterprises into charitable energy programs in the US and abroad. The Citizens Wind and Citizens Solar programs have used philanthropic funding to develop renewable energy grids for the benefit of low-income families.
GRID Alternatives is a non-profit that brings the benefits of solar power to low-income communities in the US. They also train and employ the local community to install solar panels for beneficiaries

Institutional Partner
I decided to add institutional partners to this category after being inspired by Bettina's story of her experiences as volunteer Big Sister in a blighted Hudson River town next to her university. It made me realize that before being able to bring about widespread impact, Bottles for Smiles should be able to make a deep impact in one particular community or region. By integrating this campaign into a university's community outreach or sustainability program, Bottles for Smiles can be used as a teaching tool. For example, Bettina's university can launch a Bottles for Smiles student chapter where on-campus recycling efforts can be matched with funding from a corporate sponsor. Students can then use the funds to help install solar panels for low-income families in the local community.


Phase I: Bottles for Smiles as a Pilot Campaign (See Prototype)
Bottles for Smiles can first be launched as a pilot campaign (6-12 months) to be tested in an urban area. The initial pilot program can be used to gain user feedback and exposure from a high-volume of urban residents.
Bottles Collection Stations. Setup Bottles For Smiles collection bins in public spaces with a high volume of foot traffic. Clear signage with messaging would accompany each station. Signage can also be integrated into existing recycling bins.
Smiles Dispenser. A dispenser of stickers with Bottles for Smiles logo would be setup up next to designated stations. After recycling an item, individuals can take a sticker as a receipt of their social impact. The stickers can be used to generate widespread awareness.
Bottle for Smiles Ambassadors. The user feedback from prototyping the campaign at Citi-Bank Plaza made me realize that it will be important to have live representatives at collection stations. Ambassadors can be recruited as volunteers to educate people about Bottles for Smiles. Having a live representative will add to the legitimacy of the campaign as a social movement.
Smart POS Terminal An alternative to live Ambassadors is to consider the option of smart recycling bins with interactive display screens. Robert’s feedback made me realize that it could be difficult to have representatives at every drop-off station. Instead, a smart POS system like Shimolee’s Mr. Recyle idea can be used. The important thing to consider is the degree of interactivity for users. In Robert’s words, “For example, when a user drops in a newspaper or bottle, a child could pop up on the screen and say thank you with a beaming smile. It'd make the user stop and recognize that they just did something positive and encourage them to do so again.”
Signup for Updates. People can leave their email or twitter info to receive updates on their impact.
Transfer Impact. Once the collection bins are full, the Bottle for Smiles Ambassadors can document the amount of recycled material and transfer the equivalent amount of saved energy. For instance, a 32 gallon recycling bin that holds roughly 120 aluminum cans would conserve 300 hours of electricity to power a light bulb.
Phase II: Bottles for Smiles as a Social Platform
After the initial pilot campaign, Bottles for Smiles can be implemented as a social  platform in the form of an app. The  social platform would be effect in scaling up the impact of Bottles for Smiles to users at home and on the go.
Self Reporting.  Users would be able to document their daily recycling by uploading quick snapshots of their recycled items. For instance, Joe would take a snapshot of his empty Coke bottle for upload before tossing it into the recycling bin. The snapshots would serve as receipts of users' daily recycling activities.
Notifications of Impact. Users would receive regular notifications to remind them of their good-will. For instance,  at the end of each week, Jack would receive a notification: "Congratulations Jack, your recycling efforts this week have helped us provide 55 hours of clean electricity to a family of beneficiaries in Phoenix, Arizona!" Or, "Thanks to your recycling efforts this month, we were able to donate 5 solar lanterns to your beneficiaries in Nairobi, Kenya!"
Social Engagement Tool. The social platform would serve as an important engagement tool that can allow users to better connect with the social impact that they will be making through recycling. Through a news feeder feature, users would receive visual story updates of how their recycling habits have improved the lives of real families in low income areas. It makes a world of difference to put a face behind a Smile=)
Community Recognition. Similar to Rob's Less and Sky's CycleUp ideas, the Bottle for Smiles social platform would use a ranking system to recognize community leaders who have made the most impact through their recycling efforts on a weekly and monthly basis.


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

When I was a kid, my father used to tell me that if I forgot to turn off the lights I would be preventing another family from lighting up their rooms at night. My father explained that electricity was like a ball of energy that gets passed around to power the neighborhood. If I kept the lights on, I would be hogging the energy ball and leaving my neighbors in the dark. This was how my father taught me to conserve electricity. And it worked! I became social conscious of turning off the lights to help my neighbors. Overtime, the notion of saving energy was ingrained in me as a social responsibility.

Bottles for Smiles is a idea to re-frame consumer recycling as a habit with positive social incentives.

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

Bottles for Smiles is an aspiration idea to convert recycling into a habit that can be socially impactful. There are obvious challenges when it comes to making this feasible and viable. For instance, where will the funding come from to match the electricity donations? Which philanthropic organization would be an ideal partner to support this program? How can Bottles for Smiles be a self-sustaining business model? The user interface of Bottles for Smiles as a web platform is still in progress. Any feedback would be helpful!

Evaluation results

12 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 - 41.7%

The idea is pretty good but I’m not sure it will make new habits - 50%

Not sure the idea would really help people establish long-lasting habits - 8.3%

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 - 58.3%

Seems like it could work but needs some fleshing out - 33.3%

I don’t think it could be easily used in different locations - 8.3%

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

Yes – it doesn’t seem to rely on a particular collection scheme - 58.3%

Possibly – although it might work better under some schemes rather than others - 41.7%

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 - 41.7%

Piloting this idea would be possible but it could take a lot of time and resources - 58.3%

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

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

It rocked my world - 58.3%

I liked it but preferred others - 41.7%

It didn’t get me too excited - 0%


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Photo of Jes

Congratulations Shane! Such a brilliant, simple idea. I love how bottles for smiles communicates the somewhat mundane benefits of recycling in such an engaging and heartfelt way. I can't wait to see how this grows and evolves.

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