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CycleUp - Improve recycling across your community. 3RD UPDATE: Working prototype with neighbors 2ND UPDATE: Household Pledges. 1ST UPDATE: Smart wi-fi scale to track your recycling rates

CycleUp is a web app for improving recycling habits among entire communities. YOUR HOUSEHOLD - The app experience begins by showing your recycling rate and rank, using gamification, incentives, pledges and social status to encourage your household to recycle. YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD - You then scale up to the Neighborhood view, where you compete against your neighbors for top rank, using competition, social pressure, and monthly rewards to encourage more recycling. YOUR CITY - Finally, you scale up to the City view, where you go from competing with neighbors to collaborating with them to become the top ranked neighborhood in your city, using teamwork, group status, and neighborhood rewards to improve recycling across your neighborhood.

Photo of Sky Gilbar
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Explain your idea in one sentence

CycleUp helps communities improve their recycling habits by creating incentives for individuals, households, and neighborhoods to work together to recycle more.

Prototype (Underway)
I asked four of my neighbors to participate in trying out CycleUp for three weeks. Because we all live in cottages that share a community recycling collection point, it's an ideal place to prototype the concept. Every week for three weeks, they've agreed to weigh their trash and recycling on a scale I placed near their recycling bins, and write down the waste on notecards. It's now the end of this first week, and I've inputed the data into a simple html/css prototype version of CycleUp I built. Later this week I'll input the second week of data, and then have them login and use the prototype version of CycleUp. Once I've ensured that they've logged in and experienced the app, see their household page and neighborhood page, I'll have them continue to weigh their trash and recycling for a third week and see if there's a change in their recycling rates.

At the end of the three week period, I'll then ask them a set of standardized questions to learn more if it influenced their behavoir, about their feelings about the app features, whether they would use it, and how useful and enjoyable they found it. I'll also collect general feedback in the hope of learning insights about how to refine the app concept. I've attached screenshots of the quick prototype I put together on the web, along with a photo of the simple scale and notecard recording station I set up near the recycle bin.


Pledges (New)
Based on feedback and ideas from others, instead of households simply seeing suggested  Tips on how to to help them and their neighborhood recycle more, they make action-oriented  Pledges to implement positive changes to increase recycling rates. They choose the pledges to make on the neighborhood and city pages, when clicking on the giveaway info overlays.

The Pledges are now displayed on their household page, reminding them of their Pledges and encouraging habit forming behavoir. Making a certain number of pledges also unlocks achievements for the household (rewards perhaps as well), which adds elements of strategic gameplay, further helping to motivate households to make more pledges In all, switching from  Tips, which are suggestion focused, to  Pledges, which are action focused, we can encourge households to commit to making positive changes in their recycling routine, thus improving their household and neighborhood recycling impact.


Gathering Data

Based on feedback, I've propsed a low-cost, wi-fi enabled smart scale for the home recycling bin that would collect recycling data for CycleUp households. The scale can be produced with off the shelf parts (Arduino + Weight Scale + WiFi Sensor) for under $15 USD, and at scale, the cost could be as low as $10. The scale sites under any recycling bin. You set the date of your weekly recycling day, and it records the weight at a time you set before you usually take your recycling out to the street. The scale battery would last 6 months as it would be in 'passive' until a specific time you set, at which time the weight would be recorded. The data could be accessed from the web app, or via a potential smartphone app or other API that integrates data tracking of smart devices.

Business Model:
The cost of the SmartScale could be subsidised by the municipality or trash hauler, who is naturally incentivized to increase recycling rates as it lowers their trash collection costs and brings in more money through more recycling. Alternatively, CocaCola could create a campaign in which they would give out the scales as a reward for purchasing Coca Cola products. Then, within the app, CocaCola would be able to sponsor the household and neighborhood giveaways, offerng multiple brand touchpoints and while generating millions of potential positive brand impressions at scale. Another idea is that CocaCola could also be the sponsor of a branded smartphone accessory app that would be used to control the sensor and report data.
Data for household recycling rates could be achieved in a variety of ways. Many municipalities waste haulers already have on-truck scales equipped with GPS that measure trash and recycling loads for every household. We could work with the haulers to make the dataset 'open' through a simple API that the platform could run on. Successful programs like RecycleBank and CitiGreen show that these types of partnerships and arrangements can be succesful and are scalable. Alternatively, an intelligent household scale of some kind (some ideas for which are proposed here) could be subsidized by the municipality, as they are deeply motivated to increase recycling rates, which lowers their costs. These scales could be given out to households around the city. 

Individual Profiles
Individuals will create profiles when the sign up. They'd setup a profile for their house, and invite the other members of their household to 'join'.

The notion of 'recycling' rate would refer to the ratio of recycling to trash that a household or neighborhood would generate per week. For example a recycling rate of 75% means that 75% of the waste was recycled, and 25% was thrown out as trash. This metric will need to be developed further to take into account the amount of waste created. For instance, if a household create a tremendous amount of waste in general compared to their neighbors, even though their reyccling rate may be good, they are overconsuming somehow so their rate would need to be weighted. 


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

By visualizing the recycling rate of your household, showing your households positive impact, and then rewarding better recycling habits with status achievements while showing your households rank against your neighbors, CycleUp also motivates individuals to work together with their household members to recycle more through pledges to take actions. But those motivations only go so far. When you start show households where they rank compared to their neighbors on a leaderboard, there's now social pressure to rank higher, and a personal desire to improve your status, which motivates the household to recycle more. When you can see that your neighbors are recycling more than you and getting achievements that you don't have yet, it encourages you to recycle more. What's more, by layering in monthly giveaways at a neighborhood level, it introduces friendly competition between neighbors to recycle even more. CycleUp also provides tips and ideas that make it easy to introduce new practices into your home recycling routine as well. The third level of motivation to recycle more at home expands to the level of neighborhood, where you start to understand that working with your neighbors to encourage each other all to recycle more yields the greatest incentive, rewards that actually improve the neighborhood for everyone, by providing sponsored civic improvements like tree planting in your neighborhood that benefits everyone by making your neighborhood more livable and improving your neighborhoods reputation. At this level, neighbors appoint a neighborhood leader who encourages residents to recycle more. In addition, neighbors are incentivized through achievements to PLEDGE to take three actions to help their neighbors who may not be recycling much to improve their recycling rates. For instance, a neighbor might pledge to help an elderly neighbor with taking their bins to the curb, posting flyers with tips on how to improve recycling on their street, or teaching their neighbors strategies for recycling more.

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

UPDATE: To further develop the idea and test it without the need for waste hauler scale data right now, I'd ask five of my neighbors to calculate their recycling diversion rate once each week for two weeks. There are some simple ways to generate this data, simply by having the neighbor estimate and how full their trash and recycling bins were (0,25%,50%,75%,100%) on the collection day. Since all the bins my neighbors have are are the same volume, the diversion rate can easily be calculated this way. This idea came from this quick tool I discovered: From the data I'd collect on the five neighbors diversion rate, I'll create a lightweight interactive app prototype with this real data, and have the neighbors actually use and experience it, and then learn from their responses on how to develop it further to meet their needs. Having real profiles and data in the prototype makes the experience more relatable than mockups with placeholder data, and this should be easy to achieve. Other teams in this challenge that are developing apps that will require datasets down the road might also find this to be a good way to get some early data.

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

I see CycleUp as working best with multi-family households in residential neighborhoods. I think CycleUp could be a powerful teaching tool for families to engaging their kids into recycling more. But here's the question: How do you think the idea might be possible to work in dense urban areas with apartments or single family homes? Would apartment buildings form teams perhaps, and become a 'household', or some intermediate level? What do people think of this approach to scaling recycling from the level of the individual to the household to the neighborhood to the city?

Evaluation results

10 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 - 80%

The idea is pretty good but I’m not sure it will make new habits - 20%

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 - 40%

Seems like it could work but needs some fleshing out - 60%

I don’t think it could be easily used in different locations - 0%

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

Yes – it doesn’t seem to rely on a particular collection scheme - 60%

Possibly – although it might work better under some schemes rather than others - 30%

I think it might only work under particular circumstances - 10%

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 - 10%

Piloting this idea would be possible but it could take a lot of time and resources - 90%

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

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

It rocked my world - 50%

I liked it but preferred others - 50%

It didn’t get me too excited - 0%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Shane Zhao

Sky, this is a beautifully thought out and beautifully prototyped idea! And I love how you've thought about how CycleUp can engage users on multiple scales: from the household, to the neighborhood, to and entire city. I agree with OpenIDEO that your idea is implementation ready. Looking forward to future updates on this project!

Photo of Sky Gilbar

Thanks Shane! I'm looking forward to see how things evolve. =)

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