Recycling Apps: City Tools Find The Bin For You

First Posted: 03/28/2012 12:11 pm Updated: 03/29/2012 8:28 am


VANCOUVER – Looking for a place to recycle your phone? Just ask it.

Several cities are turning to smartphone apps to encourage tech-savvy citizens to recycle and navigate the complicated rules about what can be turned in and where.

The apps come in different forms, including calendars and reminders for curbside collection and detailed maps that outline depots that take specific items such as paint, electronics or compact-fluorescent light bulbs.

Metro Vancouver, which represents all the communities in greater Vancouver, released an iPhone app earlier this month called WeRecycle. Users can type in what they’re hoping to get rid of, and the app will list depots and other spots nearby where they can drop items off to be recycled or re-used. It also provides detailed information about each community’s blue-box curbside recycling programs.

It’s part of the region’s zero-waste program, which encourages residents to keep as much garbage as possible out of landfills.

Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, who chairs the region’s zero-waste committee, said the app is designed to make recycling as easy as possible, especially for younger residents who are keen to use technology but might not be receptive to traditional outreach.

“We want to make it a lifelong habit for people, and so it’s a matter of getting the young people used to diverting their waste through recycling and reuse, and that’s an important component to reach,” says Brodie.

“It was an evolution. You start off with a phone line and then you’ve got a website and it’s not a far leap to go to an app — just keeping up with the latest trends and making information available.”

The Recycling Council of British Columbia also has a similar iPhone and Android app called BC Recyclepedia.

In North Vancouver, the local municipal district offers an iPhone and Android app called My-Waste that tells residents when municipal trucks will be at their doors and what they can — and can’t — toss into their bins. They can set reminders and read a detailed reference guide about what can be recycled.

Amanda Vantol of North Shore Recycling also said her agency hopes to use the app to target younger users.

“I think most of the requests we’ve gotten about creating an app were from a new generation who are accustomed to using the Internet and using apps to find the information we need, so we had to get with the times,” said Vantol.

“It was in response to requests from residents. We want to make recycling as easy as possible, and it seemed like something we could do fairly easily to help people remember their schedules and remember what goes in each of the bins and be reminded of that.”

Rather than create their own app, the District of North Vancouver paid a company that had already created a recycling app for other municipalities and had it modified to work with its own schedules. It was easier, and considerably cheaper, for the district than making such an app on its own, said Vantol.

Several other cities, mostly in B.C. and Ontario, have created apps using the My Waste system, according to its creator, Municipal Media.

Elsewhere, communities have put out recycling and garbage collection information as part of open-data programs, which aim to publish as much data as possible in electronic formats that are easy to manipulate.

Ottawa residents can download an iPhone or Android app called Ottawa Recycles, which also helps users map out where to drop off their recyclables.

It wasn’t created by any government. Instead, the city launched an app contest as part of its open-data initiative, and the Ottawa Recyles app was one of the winners.

It was the work of Bill Wilson, who writes smartphone apps in his spare time.

Wilson said before the city’s open-data program, he had the idea of making a simple app that would provide curbside recycling schedules. To get that information, he was forced to file an access-to-information request, and was then told it would cost as much as $20,000 to retrieve the data and put it into an electronic form.

The city’s open-data project changed that.

“The idea of open data is really interesting. Ottawa, although I did have an issue getting data from them initially, have really turned it around and are really trying to embrace open data,” said Wilson.

“Cities probably don’t have the budget to be making applications. They don’t have the expertise usually and all these technologies are constantly changing, so to release the data and let the public create all these interesting ideas, it’s basically free to the city.”