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Smart ideas around recycling

Eight finalists have unveiled their smart ideas for boostig domestic recycling, in a competitin sponsored by Coca-Cola Enterprises. MRW profiles the octet.

Bottles for Smiles

Bottles for Smiles: One-for-one

Bottles for Smiles is described as a ‘one-for-one’ programme, where one person’s efforts directly and beneficially affects another person. By recycling a bottle or can, for example, the energy saved through the recycling process is donated to a family or community in need.

The designer says that online metric tools from CCE and WRAP’s Recyclometer make it easy to calculate the energy saved on each item that is recycled. One 330ml aluminium can equals 2.5 light bulb hours, for example, while one newspaper recycled saves 5.5 light bulb hours.

Energy poverty is a challenge that affects nearly a quarter of the world’s population. Today more than 1.2 billion people live without access to electricity and another 2.8 billion people still depend on unclean and unsafe fuel sources. Bottles for Smiles’ One for One could be delivered through a partnership between a commercial brand and a social enterprise. For example, CCE could match funds to help the charity d.light distribute free solar lanterns.

The initiative aims to humanise the act of recycling to help encourage it as a habit. Behind the initiative is the notion that, while people feel good about helping to save the environment, they feel ‘great’ when they can improve someone else’s life.

Mobile app

How do I recycle this?

This is a smartphone app that shows people what materials can be recycled, locations where they can be recycled, as well as why a particular item should be recycled and what products it could be turned into. The app will also explain which items cannot be recycled and why.

Individuals record the item they have recycled using its barcode, QR code or manually if no code is available on their smartphone or electronic device.

The idea behind the design is that recycling can be confusing so this app aims to make it easier to understand and achieve. There is also an incentivising element to it, with the opportunity for sponsors to offer prize draws for those that recycle, or perhaps give a free product in return for recycling a set number of items, say, a free Coke for every 10 Coke bottles recycled.

The app would use the geolocation device on the smartphone to work out where the user is situated, helping them to recycle in unfamiliar areas where they might not know which materials can be recycled or where.

The designer suggests befriending local authorities and recruiting recycling ‘champions’ to help with the process of inputting the data that tells users where products and packaging can be recycled.

Less waste app


Another smartphone app that encourages recycling through a mixture of peer pressure and incentives. It allows individuals to record their recycling activities and awards them points for each item they recycle, as well as illustrating what their recycling efforts mean in an easy to understand way, such as being the equivalent of planting X number of trees.

The app aims to demonstrate the collective effect of an individual’s actions when taken in a wider community context – showing the true collective impact that people are having on the world and applying peer-pressure to do more. Users earn badges or titles for every level they progress through, accumulating increasing number of points along the way.

The app will also include tips on how to recycle better, list upcoming recycling events and use infographics to effectively illustrate the data gathered.

Using this app, it should be possible to see how well an individual is recycling as well as how well a school, community or city is doing. This element makes it possible to make comparisons and introduce the element of competition. If the app was used in schools or colleges, different year groups could compete against one another to win prizes. Corporate sponsors, such as a coffee chain, could offer incentives such as a free hot drink for users who bring in their own cup.



The designer of R-Blocks complains that recycling bins are ugly and end up being hidden – out of sight and out of mind. His idea was to create a system that was attractive and so could be left out in plain sight, being accessible and acting as a constant visual reminder to recycle. The designer argues that the more you like your bin, the more you will recycle.

The R-Blocks are colourful containers that mount on the wall, in line of sight, are available in different sizes and customisable. For example, you could have a larger container for plastic if you recycled more of this material.

The blocks are also personalised, with users being able to draw or write on them to illustrate what material each contains. The designer says he did not recycle before dreaming up this concept and that using the prototype boxes made it easy – within two or three days – to acquire the recycling habit.

He says this was also true of friends who trialled the product. They report that the R-blocks are easy to use and ‘more like posting a letter’ than throwing something out.

Recy’Cream Truck

Recy’Cream Trucks

This is a refuse collection vehicle meets ice cream van. In the same way that the distant music of the ice cream van mobilises and excites children, it is hoped that the Recy’Cream Truck – where children and adults can swap recyclable items for treats – will do the same.

The mobile recycling centre receives home recycling materials and trades them for healthy snacks such as fruit popsicles, low-fat frozen yogurt treats and fresh juices. Pre-existing municipal recycling facilities can be used to deposit the recycled materials.

The designer suggests that the trucks be branded by a corporate partner, maintaining low costs for municipalities while creating goodwill for the company involved. She adds that the concept should work in both developing and developed countries, and will generate funds for local communities from the sale of recycled materials.

A similar initiative has already taken off in Brazil, where recyclables are traded for locally grown vegetables. The programme has resulted in areas that were previously choked with rubbish being cleared.

In developed countries, the scheme could be targeted at high-density areas where no, or limited, recycling facilities exist. The Recy’Cream trucks would be reconditioned vehicles with a collection facility and refrigeration unit for snacks.

Simple Sticker

Simple Sticker

A visual aid such as a sticker is fixed to the inside lid of the household rubbish bin, illustrating all the items that ought not to go inside because they can be recycled. The designer describes it as a ‘just-in-time’ reminder to help separate recyclables from waste.

The idea is simple and would be cheap to implement, and the designer is looking for illustrations that can be used for the simple sticker. She hit upon the idea when she took her empty pizza boxes to the recycling bin, which does not take pizza boxes. If it wasn’t for the huge sticker saying ‘no pizza boxes’, she would have put the box in the wrong bin, potentially contaminating the recyclables already in there.

The designer then wondered if the same sticker idea could be applied the other way round to rubbish bins. So every time you absent mindedly went to throw an empty beer bottle or aluminium can into the rubbish bin, there would be a gentle reminder that the bottle or can does not belong there. The designer says the sticker could change habits and behaviour to promote recycling.

Waste-Free Wednesday

Waste-Free Wednesday

Under this idea, people pledge to reduce the waste they produce on Wednesdays. The pledges are adaptable and responsive to individual circumstances so as to be inclusive and encouraging. One person, for example, might pledge not to purchase or consume any new products or throw anything away. Another person might decide not to consume anything that will end up in landfill or decide not to smoke on that day so that the filters will not end up as rubbish.

The idea relies on creating a social movement with friends, perhaps, making their pledges on social networking sites and promoting the event to other people. This would also provide reminders to those who are already taking part in the challenge.

The designer says she has tried to have several waste-free Wednesdays, but remembering to stick to it was a challenge. She says it was easy to forget and fall back into previous behaviour patterns. But if the idea took off, there would also be reminders, such as through other pledges on social networks or promotions. Businesses might, for example, start to respond to it, perhaps with grocery stores promoting products without packaging.

The campaign could produce a useful toolkit to help those taking up the challenge, such as recipes for turning Tuesday’s leftovers into Wednesday’s meals.



CycleUp is described by the designer as a web app for improving recycling habits by using gamification, incentives and pledges. The app starts with the household and illustrates its recycling rate and rank. This is then scaled up to the local area, where you compete against neighbours for the top spot using competitions, social pressure and monthly rewards to encourage recycling.

The next stage is where ‘gamers’ collaborate in their neighbourhood to compete against others in their city to become the top recycling area. The app tries to encourage the use of pledges rather than providing tips because the designer has found they are more likely to promote action.

He has already trialled the idea among five of his neighbours. A wifi-enabled scale measures the weekly household waste and recycling, which then records the information on the app. The designer says the cost of this type of weighing scale could be as low as £6.

The app could be subsidised by the local authority or a waste and recycling company, with corporate sponsors offering prizes and promotions.

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