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Less - make recycling a social and collective effort.

A mobile app that converts our recycling actions into points that are ranked against friends and communities on a social platform.

Photo of Kaye Han
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Explain your idea in one sentence

A social platform that helps motivate users to recycle more by tracking user progress with a point system, providing social competition with friends, showing collective impact among selected communities, and giving reminders.


The app has three main goals:

  1. Track the recycling progress of each individual and reward points for each good action (such as donating clothes).
  2. Put each user into a rank (competition) among their friends and communities - weekly/monthly goal targets and award badges for certain milestones.
  3. Show the collective recycling impact by aggregating data into user created groups called 'communities' that displays recycling progress in an understanable context (e.g. 1 million plastic bottles). Users can make these 'communities' public or invite-only, this works well when the 'communities' represent real-world groups such as work, family, school alumni, physical neighbourhoods, clubs, etc. This works great for international companies who have offices all around the world, users can join the 'Coca-Cola Community' and play a part in that company's global collective recycling effort. 


Rebecca is like most people and doesn't really think much about the environment; with recent news she has grown increasingly worried about the sustainability of our world but really doubts that recycling at home will have any real impact. She sees friends posting their Less scores on Facebook and decides to download the app to see what the fuss is about. She joins her Facebook friend's 'community' on Less and sees that in the pass month they have collectively recycled over 3 tonnes of paper which is the equivalent of growing 51 trees! She now understands that if everyone does their small part it adds up to a huge impact - Rebecca is competitive by nature and starts to recycle religiously with Less to compete with friends. 

Jeremy wants to recycle more and more but he's not really sure of his progress or how he compares to his friends. He hears from a mate that there's an app that works similar to NikeFuel which tracks your progress and puts it in context with the communities around you. He downloads it and notices that he's actually recycling less than most of his friends by 20%! He then learns from the friends feed of how other people are recycling and picks up tips from the suggestions section - such as colour-coding his bins at home. Jeremy now always has a goal of how much to recycle each month, which is to always stay above average among his friends and communities. 

Kelly is a year 11 high school student and her school has started a competition to see which year group recycles more. The winning year group not only gets bragging rights across the whole school, but they also win free-dress day passes, discount at the canteen, excursions to the local waste facilities, etc. They use Less to create 'year group communities' on the platform to track the progress and allow each student to see the scores in real-time. Kelly has a little brother in year 8 and would not be able to live it down if she lost and is doing everything she can to get the year 11s to win. In pursuit of this initial goal, Kelly starts to build great recyling habits for the future. 



Data input is the biggest hurdle to jump. Smartphones have automatic sensors for things such as travel distance which makes it easy for apps such as the Nike Fuelband to work because it requires no concious effort on the user's part. It is incredibly important to make the data entry as easy/seamless as possible as nobody wants an extra task in their lives (especially when recycling is already seen as one).

When it comes to recycling, it is difficult to have that action's data automatically input to the app. For example, it's very difficult to know how much paper I recycled in my home this week, or if I donated 20 articles of old clothing. Some potential workarounds; 1. weighing the waste by putting a scale under the bin. 2. scanning items via barcode. 3. selecting items from a pre-made list (e.g. 3 bags, 10kg paper, 20 bottles, etc.).

If people have any ideas regarding this, please write a comment below - I would love to hear from you! :)



Less's success requires its user base to reach a point of critical mass; it needs to overcome the 'chicken-and-egg' problem that all platforms encounter in the early phases of growth. In the beginning, Less will partner with schools who already have focus on improving their student's awareness on sustainability and recycling. It will help by creating a custom competition program for each school and explanation material to be passed out to teachers/students. Hopefully the schools will make it mandatory for students to partake in the program. For example, it will create a 1 month competition for the High School to see which year group recycles the most while arming the teachers with information on how to recycle better at home to teach the students. This will enable large groups of real-life connected users (friends/schoolmates) to join the Less platform and immediately interact with each other on the network. During the month of competition the students will learn new ways to recycle and subconsciously develop habits around the home (influencing other family members). Less's activities such as badge achievements will be pushed onto Facebook/Twitter to further solidfy it into the social space. 

Another element to improve the Less adoption in the beginning is to partner with companies also in the fight to improve recycling, and provide rewards to the school competition programs (such as recycled plastic bottle companies providing plastic for 3D printing). An example could be sponsorship with method (sustainability focused cleaning products) on providing its products as rewards for the competitions. 

After targeting schools, Less can also move towards targeting large international companies with a focus on corporate social responsibility; Coca-Cola and IDEO are both great examples to start. By aiming for large groups of related-users, it allows for higher traction in the beginning as new users already have real-life connections on the platform (similar to Facebook's university strategy). This gives Less diversity in its user base and lower barriers to adoption as it's initial users are actually encouraged by their organisations/schools to participate. 

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

Habits often require motivation that is beyond an individual's ability to muster alone - especially for mundane tasks like recycling. By making recycling a social experience it not only motivates by showing the collective greater impact, it also directly encourages each person to do more through peer-pressure. By allowing users to create/join their own communities, they stay constantly connected to the people who matter to them - and ultimately can influence them.

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

Use app prototyping tools such as Flinto (thanks Nathan) or to create interactive wireframes that users can navigate through. Use interviews to solicit feedback on how to improve the platform to provide more motivation and social interaction. Observe when users would decide to open the app compared to when users actually are in the action of recycling.

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

What kinds of recycling/sustainability actions do you think this app should record? What is the best way to have the user's actions recorded by the app? E.g. how should the app record how many plastic bottles I recycled this week at home? Besides ranking, weekly goal targets, and badges - are there any other effective motivational tools to use on this social platform?

Evaluation results

15 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 - 33.3%

The idea is pretty good but I’m not sure it will make new habits - 60%

Not sure the idea would really help people establish long-lasting habits - 6.7%

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 - 53.3%

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

I don’t think it could be easily used in different locations - 13.3%

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

Yes – it doesn’t seem to rely on a particular collection scheme - 57.1%

Possibly – although it might work better under some schemes rather than others - 28.6%

I think it might only work under particular circumstances - 14.3%

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 - 40%

Piloting this idea would be possible but it could take a lot of time and resources - 53.3%

A pilot doesn’t seem easy at this point - 6.7%

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

It rocked my world - 26.7%

I liked it but preferred others - 66.7%

It didn’t get me too excited - 6.7%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Thi Mui Nguyen

Hi Rob,
This is such a great idea. I really believe that this app could be a success! Just compare to the success of apps that calculate calories when exercising. People want to know how much they are improving. Moreover, the best part of this idea is the innovative thinking of making recycling to a social trend! Good luck!

Photo of Khanh Ngo

I agree with you. This is a feasible idea. People love to spend their free point and protecting their earth at the same time. By using this app they know what they can do, how can they recycle stuffs and getting point through doing that. I really want 1 of those app in my phone

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