It is Creighton Hooper’s vision to make recycling easy for people and municipalities, especially with all the changes in the recycling market. In 2001, the president of Toronto-based company Municipal Media Inc. began using calendars to communicate with residents about waste management issues and priorities. Seventeen years later, how the company reaches residents around the world has changed, but the goal is still the same.
Three years ago, Hooper and his team launched Recycle Coach, an educational app that teaches residents about recycling and connects them with recycling programs where they live.
More than 3,000 municipalities use the app to send collection schedules, notifications and reminders to their customers, such as when to put out yard waste or when holidays will delay pickups.
While speaking at an event, Tyler Munro, a Recycle Coach content specialist, was asked what’s the point of the app.
“Ultimately, when it comes to recycling, a lot of people don’t realize how little they know,” Munro says. “One in every 3 pounds of material that go in recycling are contaminants. People don’t even realize when you go from program to program everything is different. That creates a lot of confusion. Our reason for being is to simplify everything.”
The “What Goes Where?” search tool allows users to look up materials to see how to dispose of them. The database contains more than 10,000 common and uncommon items.
“There’s a lot of searches for flexible packaging and resin-coated paper on the app," Munro says. "Electronics are also very popular. Unfortunately people just toss those into the garbage.”
For example, residents can use the tool if they don’t know what to do with plastic bags. The app will instruct them to “place all bags into one bag and tie closed.” It also provides nearby drop-off locations accepting plastic bags and explains the recycled bags will be made into new products, such as plastic lumber for decks.
“If something is really easy to do, people will do it correctly,” Munro says. “We’re trying to make it really simple and reduce all the barriers. The average person doesn’t want to spend much time thinking about their garbage, so we think of it for them.”
Equipped with geolocation, the problem-reporting tool allows users to notify municipalities about issues, such as missed collections or illegal dumping. They can upload an image and share it with their city’s recycling program, Munro says.
“This really empowers municipalities,” he adds. “It gives them a communication infrastructure to directly contact their residents.”
Other features include the “What Type of Recycler Are You?” quiz and the blog, which features articles on a range of topics from how to get rid of old furniture to the plastic straw problem.
The state of New Jersey recently joined the Recycle Coach network. Brick Township is one of many New Jersey towns where residents can now access their curbside collection calendar, notifications and recycling news on the app.
“Recycling should be one of the easiest ways for people to do good,” Hooper says. “Unfortunately, it can be a little confusing. Our approach is to make it as easy as possible, so that everyone can do it correctly and reap the benefits of doing something good for themselves, their communities and the environment.”