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Apps for information at your fingertips

Smart phones have certainly changed the way we communicate and gather information. Katie Coyne looks into some of the apps that have been introduced in the waste and recycling space

There are apps to find your favourite takeaway, where the nearest dry cleaners are based and even how to get your baby to sleep. So it makes sense that there is now an array of apps to help people with their waste and recycling as well as industry focused apps helping to run business smoothly.

Not knowing when the ‘binmen’ come, or what goes in the recycling, is a common moan in households across the country and this is where web and mobile app developer U6 Media came to the rescue. The Binfo app lets local authorities tell local residents when bin collections will be made and what goes in what bin.

“Local authorities have a great deal of issue communicating with their residents on two aspects,” says Peter Atkinson, director. “Firstly, which day the bins go out and secondly, from a recycling perspective, what do you put in your bins? Local authorities have different collection systems and recycle different materials so it’s quite confusing for people.”

Binfo is customised to each local authority, which maintains and inputs the information for residents. It soon became clear that Binfo could be expanded with the addition of other services and it is now being submerged into the ‘Connect’ app. Connect included Binfo and other functions such as flytipping and graffiti reporting. As smart phones all have cameras on them, this has been usefully incorporated into the app.

“If you see some graffiti you can take a picture of it and it’s geotag allows the local authority to see where it is, so they can get out to clean it,” adds Atkinson, who suggests that pictures could even help with prosecutions. “It’s the same with flytipping – and if you catch them in the act [and take a photo] even better.”

A nice touch is that the Binfo app and platform is multilingual. “So on the Swansea app residents can switch between English and Welsh,” adds Atkinson. The U6 Media apps are built for Apple, Android and Windows devices to improve accessibility.

AMCS Group provides a range of specialist software for the waste and recycling sector and apps are an area of growth. Elaine Treacy, head of marketing and sales, argues: “There is definitely huge room for penetration of apps in the market. There’s still a huge amount of paper based work and manual working to upgrade.”

Treacy says it’s not just the development of the apps themselves but the fact that the hardware is becoming increasingly available and at everyone’s fingertips. Photos documenting problems that are uploaded to management or customer service desks immediately allows for complaints to be dealt with quickly and appropriately. If a bin isn’t collected, for example, because a gate was locked, operators can take a photo of the locked gates and send them to head office.

“The availability of devices - and low cost devices - is helping to change the way things are done,” says Treacy. “They offer real time communication and there’s a lot more detail available in the system. From a customer services perspective it can help to solve problems.”

AMCS Group uses open based software – which increases its compatibility - so that it can ‘plug in’ to the back of other non-AMCS software if necessary. Treacy adds that the group has found that within the waste and recycling industry Android appears to be the most popular platform, particularly within the European market place.

AMCS plans to launch an Android version of its AMCS Mobile software at RWM. It will run on Android smartphones and tablets v 4.0 and above. AMCS Mobile enables real time connection between head office and drivers. It allows the driver schedules for the day to be sent directly to their phone and updated as needed, tracking driver location and work progress throughout the day.

AMCS Mobile app

Other features include: electronic scheduling; GPS Satellite positioning; mobile telephone communication; satellite navigation; vehicle tracking; driver logon and safety checklist; productivity by recording breaks, refuel, disposal events; recording time on every job; photo capture; and signature capture.

Mapping function of The Green Alchemist

Last year AMCS also launched the app MyBin365 that allows domestic and commercial waste producers to receive live updates from their service provider, monitor waste and recycling services, and make secure online payments. The app can be used on a smartphone or tablet and is customisable so it can be branded by waste management companies or councils.

The sorts of services that can be made available include: viewing the collection schedule of each bin type; receiving notifications such as changes to a collection day; checking what is allowed in each bin; reporting a problem, with the ability to upload a photo; requesting an additional service; ordering a new service; accessing information on recycling reward schemes; make a payment on the move.

Meanwhile, Element Green Recycling has developed an app – the Green Alchemist – to help companies sell their recyclables once they have been collected. It also provides tips and guidance on how companies can reduce waste, recycle more and save money. The app also has a consumer facing side whereby householders can find out information about recycling in their area and local facilities such as recycling centres and banks.

Green Alchemist was developed with funding from Ordnance Survey’s Geovation competition. Businesses put in their postcode and weight of recyclate in order to find out how much it is worth. They can then auction the material to companies nearby or be sent quotes for it to be collected. The auction function on the app can also be used to sell office furniture and electronic goods.

At the ‘reduce’ end of the waste hierarchy WRAP and Zero Waste Scotland collaborated on the Love Food Hate Waste app. This consumer-facing, free app is compatible with Android and Apple and helps consumers reduce food waste. Users have to tell the app what food and stores are in their kitchen cupboards and fridge. The app keeps track and offers meal-planning, recipes and tips on how to use up food that may be approaching its use by date. It offers tips and recipes on how to use up forgotten foods and leftovers. The app also aims to help consumers save money – up to £60 a month.

Zero Waste Scotland was also involved in developing Flymapper, which can be used by councils to report and map instances of flytipping. The idea is to build up a full picture of the flytipping problem in order to develop future strategy on tackling flytipping. Zero Waste Scotland estimates that at least 26,000 tonnes of materal is flytipped every year in Scotland.

The Green Retail app is a training and guidance programme developed by Resource Efficient Scotland, a programme delivered by Zero Waste Scotland, aimed at smaller retailers. The app provides a one-stop-shop for all business’ resource efficiency needs – water, energy, or waste. It provides videos, practical tools and information together with links to wider support from Resource Efficient Scotland. 

Jon Molyneux, head of communications for Zero Waste Scotland, explains: “We’ve used apps as one part of our wider engagement toolkit in quite specific circumstances, where we’ve been able to establish with partners that they could have a valuable role in helping to influence behaviour change.  In a world where more and more people have smartphones and other forms of smart technology are coming on stream, apps can be useful as part of an integrated communications approach.  Our experience is that they are of particular value where they offer a clear practical benefit and are designed with the needs of end users in mind.”

In terms of future use of apps Molyneux argues that they work well if they are targeted correctly and form part of a wider range of solutions. “It works where there is a very practical rationale,” he says. “You have to consider it as one tool in the box. But it’s only one tool - there are limitations. We do not all own a smart phone - although a lot of us do - it isn’t universal. You wouldn’t make it a universal service.”

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