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Recycling for the digital generation

A start-up company has built and launched a new mobile application to facilitate better recycling in Australia.

“We are a group of young professionals, from a range of backgrounds, who are passionate about the environment. We saw a big gap in the market to engage digitally with residents to help them recycle effectively.”

That summary is from Tony 
Perna, Director of Marketing and Communications and co-founder of RecycleSmart, the company behind a mobile application (app) of the same name that shows users how and where to dispose of their recyclables.

Following a soft launch and extensive user testing with councils this past November, the improved RecycleSmart app was launched to the public in February.

Finding a gap

About two years in gestation, 
it is the innovation of a group of 
social innovators and entrepreneurs 
in Sydney. They started out by researching what apps were on the market that gave people information about recycling, but that also offered an interface between councils and their citizens. They found a gap.

“Education in this space, especially that is available digitally, is quite low,” says Tony. “Residents can be very engaged about recycling, but they hit a wall when they want information quickly. Meanwhile, interactions between residents and councils
are often around complaints.

“We wanted to build an app to bring own barriers between residents and councils,” he adds.

The team set about creating a tool to eliminate any confusion behind recycling, which would help to increase municipal recycling rates and resource recovery, while at the same time offering a platform for council/ community interaction.

First, they accumulated data 
from more than 500 councils in Australia about how to recycle over 250 household items. Then, after collaborating with Planet Ark, they integrated with its RecyclingNearYou online database to leverage its nationwide information about recycling services offered by councils, as well as local disposal options for items including computers, batteries, printer cartridges and mobile phones.

“Australia is unique in that even councils within close proximity to each other have different rules with regards to what they recycle,” explains Tony.

Working with councils

RecycleSmart worked with several councils in Sydney leading up to the build to create what they believe to be Australia’s most comprehensive app providing details of recycling services and product stewardship schemes.

For council waste management services, the app offers a new way to connect with service users and save and redeploy limited financial resources.

Users can let their local councils know how to improve recycling in their communities through the app’s “Tell our council” feature. They can upload a photo and description of the issue, for example, a missed rubbish collection, illegal dumping or any other form of feedback, positive or negative. That information is then placed on a dashboard to give the council an opportunity to address 
the problem and report back to 
the resident.

The app also has a calendar function, which allows users to receive push notifications reminding them of bin collection days or one-off recycling events in their local area.

“They don’t have to access the calendar to see events, as their council can easily notify residents of notable recycling events and create an extra level of engagement and interactivity,” adds Tony.

Users can also access Planet Ark’s blog and selective news feeds relevant to sustainability in Australia.

Tony says RecycleSmart offers three main benefits for councils. First, it doesn’t require a large investment, which is a normal barrier of entry due to the cost of building and maintaining a tool like this. It is free for councils and users to use. The additional interactivity functions are available to councils for a nominal monthly fee and without a lock-in contract, so they can trial the service before using it as an ongoing platform.

“When a council requests the extra functionality, it takes just four weeks to set this up. They also get technical and marketing support,” explains Tony. “We’re genuinely passionate about helping councils engage with people to improve environmental outcomes.”

Second, it creates more interactions between councils and residents. “We’re just in the initial phase now, but there will be enhancements, such as more features to improve the user experience and how councils can interact with their residents,” says Tony.

The third benefit is its educational aspects, as users can learn what happens to their products when they throw them away, what items can be recycled and how to minimise waste.

“In the long term, this will have an impact on how much councils spend
on waste management,” states Tony. “Having more conscious recyclers in your community will have an impact on how much gets recycled and recovered.

“Keeping waste out of landfill helps councils allocate municipal resources more effectively on other services to the benefit of local communities.”

Positive feedback

The next task for the RecycleSmart team is to raise awareness of the app with municipalities and the general public. It is also looking to form partnerships with key players in the industry that have similar values and objectives. The team has received very positive feedback from councils since the initial release phase and it has already achieved more than 3,000 downloads.

“Usually, when someone tries to find out what they can recycle or dispose of where, it takes quite some time
and searching around on numerous websites or navigating council portals, meaning they often abandon their enquiry, whereas with our app it takes about 20 seconds,” says Tony.

They want residents to use it
and keep using it long term, as it creates ongoing interactions between councils and their residents.

“The waste management industry hasn’t fully engaged with digital communications for education and engagement yet,” says Tony. “Yet people of all ages and backgrounds are digitally literate and use their mobile devices to access information quickly. RecycleSmart taps into this phenomenon.”

The RecycleSmart app can be downloaded for free on iOS and Android at RecycleSmart.com.au or from the RecyclingNearYou website.