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Recy'Cream Trucks [Updated June 18]

There is nothing like the distant strains of the ice cream truck melody to mobilize and excite children (and sometimes adults). This concept uses a fun and low-cost incentive device to encourage at home recycling by the whole family: yummy treats distributed by a mobile recycling center, the Recy’Cream Truck.

Photo of Nancy Kelly
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Explain your idea in one sentence

Fun and exciting neighborhood Recy'Cream Trucks create incentive for children and adults to recycle at home.
A mobile recycling center, the Recy’Cream truck, will receive home recycling materials and trade them for fun and healthy snacks such as all-fruit popsicles, lowfat frozen yogurt treats and fresh juices. The mobility of the truck will allow for easy implementation as pre-existing municipal recycling facilities can be used to deposit the recycled materials.

In addition, the trucks lend themselves to private/public partnerships: the trucks and snacks can be branded by the corporate partner, maintaining low costs for municipalities while creating goodwill for the private enterprises involved. This concept will work in developing countries as well as developed areas and will generate funds for local communities from the sale of the recycled materials.

I recently spoke to a colleague who lives in a New York City owned and operated building that does not recycle. The reason she was given by the building manager: ‘There’s no place to put it’. The residents of the building, who may want to recycle at home, are being thwarted, and others, more indifferent, are being deprived of the opportunity to develop habits that help the environment and make them feel good about their contributions. Children are unable to build a recycling habit that could last a lifetime. Recy’Cream Trucks could change that.

For several years, I lived in Upper Manhattan. Garbage filled and spilled out of the street containers, covering the streets on windy days. The city regularly had to use a bulldozer to excavate an empty lot that filled up with garbage more quickly than you could imagine. The environment was degraded by the glut of garbage, much of which could have been recycled and repurposed. For the residents, especially children, living in the neighborhood, the lack of attention, and solutions to the problem and the degraded environment reinforces despair, anger and low self-esteem, as well as hurting the earth. In Brazil, programs that trade recycling for locally grown vegetables have been a huge success. Areas once ‘choked’ with garbage have been cleaned up, and all the recyclable materials traded for healthy food. In Upper Manhattan, Recy’Cream Trucks could have a similar effect.

As a student, I lived for a year in a small rural town in Tunisia. When it came time to empty the garbage, we walked to a hillside at the back of the house and emptied it. There were informal dumps everywhere you looked, along fences, in ditches, at the edges of fields. What should have been a beautiful countryside of olive and orange tree orchards was marred by the lack of much-needed recycling programs. Recy’Cream Trucks which do not require large home bins, elaborate pick-up schemes or municipal infrastructure other than a drop-off point could transform a polluted countryside back to a beautiful one.

Recy’Cream Trucks are recycled themselves. Built from delivery trucks that have aged out of the fleet but have not reached the end of their lifespan, the trucks have been retrofitted to hold and sort recyclable materials. One section of the truck also contains a freezer and refrigerator for healthy snacks that will be given away in return for recyclables. The trucks have been converted to run on recycled vegetable oil, which they are able to collect in a sealed container, collecting their own fuel and avoiding emitting harmful fumes when idling for pick-ups.

On an established day and time of the week, Recy’Cream Trucks make their rounds, alerting residents of their presence with the strains of pleasant melodies. Children and adults stream out of their homes carrying the week’s recycling in anticipation of the fun and exciting exchange ahead. The trucks are painted with bright, visually enticing graphics that illustrate the ‘journey of recycling’ so that children and parents can see and discuss how the materials they use and recycle are then transformed into something else useful (that may also be recyclable). As attendants collect the recycling, they weigh the materials and share the amount that has been diverted from landfills, as well as the amount of CO2 emissions being avoided. Everyone who has turned in recyclables will be given a token with which they can redeem a treat. Children from the same household can each turn in a different type of material, i.e. plastic, paper, cans, so that everyone can get a treat token. At times, when a truck is participating in a neighborhood block party or street fair, kids can participate in compacting recyclables, weighing them, etc.

Below are some ideas for how the graphics on the truck might be an opportunity for teaching children about recyling in visually enticing way, a la the board game Candyland, as well as for the 'kid-powered compactor' which could provide a thrill similar to squashing grapes with your bare feet to make wine.

One concern is that the truck would not have a large enough capacity to collect all the available recyclables. I'm looking for some low-tech, low-cost design ideas for the truck that would allow for maximum capacity.

Awesome animation of Recy'Cream truck over at Kenneth's From This to This idea - really cool visual cross-pollination!

Paul Reader proposed a link between RecyCream, Priyanka's concept and Stephen's Recycling Champ here ( ).

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

The Recy'Cream Trucks provide a simple, low-cost reward for effective recycling. Treats can be distributed for meeting specific recycling quotas, in either type of materials or total quantity. This will inspire families, especially kids, to recycle a wide variety of materials and to separate out recyclables from non-recyclable waste.

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

A low-cost, temporary pilot program could be run in a specific neighborhood or zone of a city where recycling infrastructure already exists but participation is low. On a weekly basis over 6 months, a single Recy'Cream Truck could make the rounds of the zone. Participation would be measured by quantity of recycled materials collected and number of participants. This would create quantitative data to measure the effectiveness of the program. A survey could also be distributed in the area to measure qualitative outcomes.

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

This is a broad sketch that would benefit from input from the community on refinements in all areas, especially implementation. Lots of great ideas coming in from team and community members in the comments section!

Evaluation results

9 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 - 55.6%

The idea is pretty good but I’m not sure it will make new habits - 44.4%

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 - 22.2%

Seems like it could work but needs some fleshing out - 66.7%

I don’t think it could be easily used in different locations - 11.1%

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

Yes – it doesn’t seem to rely on a particular collection scheme - 66.7%

Possibly – although it might work better under some schemes rather than others - 33.3%

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 - 11.1%

Piloting this idea would be possible but it could take a lot of time and resources - 77.8%

A pilot doesn’t seem easy at this point - 11.1%

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

It rocked my world - 44.4%

I liked it but preferred others - 55.6%

It didn’t get me too excited - 0%


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Photo of An Old Friend

Great Idea.

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