Smart Cities Smart Recycling: RecycleBeacon Integrates Smartphone Technology with Smart Recycling Bins to Accelerate Recycling Efforts

Valerie Schafer
Chief Executive Officer
Recycle Beacon, FZ LLC

Smart Cities and the Internet of Everything

As reported by Gulf News on 19 October, 2013:

His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has announced a project to transform Dubai into a “Smart City”, linking the emirate’s government services and the public through the use of smart devices accessed freely using high- speed wireless internet connections.

Shaikh Mohammad said the new integrated high- tech approach aims to use the latest advances in technology to create a model for providing government services that are easily accessible, quick and efficient using smart devices.

"As a smart city, government departments will be inter- connected to provide faster services and information to all citizens and guests. We strive to create a new smart concept in running cities,"

Shaikh Mohammad said

The UAE is the world leader in smartphone usage, with 3 out of 4 persons in the UAE owning a smartphone. This, combined with the Sheikh Mohammad's vision of Dubai as a Smart City, with free high-speed wireless available everywhere, positions Dubai to realize all of the visions of the "Internet of Things".

What is a Smart City? It is a city that uses information, technology and communications (ITC) to optimize the functioning of areas as diverse as electricity, water usage, parking, traffic and waste management. Smart Cities offer new ways to manage complexity, increase efficiency, reduce expenses and improve quality of life. Smart Cities collect and analyze data and use the information to improve infrastructure, invest wisely, and making living easier for their occupants.

To understand Smart Cities, it is also necessary to understand the Internet of Things. Now, people interact with the Internet through their computer of smartphone. With the advent of low-cost sensors and transmitters, machines are able to interact with other machines through the Internet. Objects can report their status through the cloud, and can interact with people through their smartphones.

Part of being smart is using ITC through the Internet to address everyday challenges. In the vision for Smart Cities, sensors can transmit information about their status over the Internet, thus transforming the real-time information available to the public in areas like traffic, air quality, open parking spaces, weather conditions, lighting, noise, and waste management. The goal of the usage of these sensors is to increase efficiency, reduce energy usage and thus the carbon footprint of the city.

Waste Management? Why is that important? Unfortunately, the GCC Countries occupy the top ten spots for high waste generation per capita and this is only expected to grow. Of the 22 million tonnes of domestic waste generated in 2009, 60% was from Saudi Arabia, 20% from the UAE, and the rest from Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and Bahrain. At least 75% of the waste generated is recyclable. The value of recyclable waste generated in the UAE is roughly $1.5 billion dirhams annually.

In 2012, the UAE was recycling only 3% of its waste, similar to the rest of the Middle East. For aluminum cans, a high-value recyclable, only 5% are recycled in the Middle East compared to an average of 63% worldwide. Dubai has an aggressive goal for increasing recycling by 20-30% per year, and for reaching 100% recycling by 2030.

Waste Generation in the Middle East

Waste recycling is an important initiative around the world, as waste generation is increasing and landfills are full. There is a big opportunity to produce a revenue stream from aluminum, plastics and other materials that can be recycled instead of buried in landfills. But how to quickly reach the aggressive goals being set for recycling? One answer is through the use of Gamification.

Benefits of Gamification

Compare these posts on Facebook, a social networking application:

"Karim Nasser has reached level 10 of Candy Crush saga with 50,000 points" "Mohamad Hassan has attained Level 5 Recycler, with badges in CO2 Emissions Reduction and Tree-Saver. He is leading the Nad al Hammar neighborhood in waste recycled."

The most popular downloads for smartphones, both Android and iOS, are games. People love a challenge and they like to compete with themselves and with others to get to the top of the Leaderboard. It’s a well-established technique of Game Theory, and the process of Gamification turns normally boring and burden-some tasks like waste recycling into a rewarding game.

Similar efforts in the United States and the United Kingdom have increased the participation in recycling by 20% or more. It has been proven that laws mandating recycling and fines for not recycling are not enough. Even with mandatory recycling laws in place, the percentage of recycling in the US has plateaued at 35%. In the same way that laws against speeding do not keep people from going over the speed limit, laws that require recycling are not enough to make people recycle.

Research has proven that Gamification is an effective way to modify consumer behavior and to increase consumer engagement and education. Game mechanics such as points, leader boards, badges, levels and challenges are known to cause people to play games almost addictively. Game dynamics such as competition, rewards, recognition and status engage consumers in a way that simply passing a law cannot. Use of Gamification in recycling will not only make it fun, but will provide a motivational way to learn “how” to recycle and "where" to recycle.

The RecycleBeacon System

RecycleBeacon is a company founded by Chad Smalley, Jawad Ashraf and Valerie Schafer. These three visionaries combined their knowledge of smartphone applications along with the engineering of the future to make recycling a Smart City application. The core products of the company are a smartphone application and a Smart Cities sensor for recycling bins. These products combine to educate and reward people for recycling while at the same time, providing valuable information on recycling patterns and opportunities for improvement.

The Smartphone Application

The RecycleBeacon smartphone application uses Gamification to make recycling fun and to engage consumers. Functionalities include the following:

  • Education: Consumers will learn what is recyclable by playing games where they earn points by correctly separating recyclable waste from non-recyclable waste. The points earned in the game translate into new levels and rewards. They will also earn points and badges by reading articles or taking fun pop quizzes on recycling topics such as the benefits of recycling aluminum, plastic and paper, to increase their knowledge and their recycling efforts.
  • Competition: The application will allow the consumers to associate with different groups, such as their neighborhood, their children’s’ school, or their workplace. Their relative position in each of these groups will encourage healthy competition to be the top recycler. Groups will have the opportunity to view the recycling data and provide their own rewards to top recyclers.
  • Maps will direct users to the nearest recycling location.
  • Direct Rewards for Recycling: Through the Smart module, all of the consumer's recyclable trash will be weighed and points awarded for the amount of recyclables collected.
  • Redemption of Points: Retailers will be enlisted to provide rewards. For example, the consumer could redeem 500 points for a 50 dirham discount off a 500 dirham purchase at a local retail store. The government can provide rewards in the form of air miles or discounts on DEWA bills.
  • Other Features: There will be many more engaging features that consumers will find when they download the app, and more that can be added as the app is continuously updated.

The Smart Cities sensor

The RecycleBeacon sensor makes our system a part of Smart Cities, by providing sophisticated Business Intelligence dashboards and reporting tools for our Government and Waste Management partners. This will allow them to drill deep into analytical data about consumer recycling behavior which does not exist today. Here are just a few major benefits of the technology:

  • Each time the consumer deposits trash in the recycle bin, a message pops up on their smartphone. For example, "Thank you for depositing 1.3 kg of recyclables. You have been awarded 130 points."
  • The data will show which locations or recycle bins are full and need to be serviced.
  • The app will allow consumers to request new recycle locations
  • As a consumer walks by a recycle bin in the mall, the Beacon technology will cause a message to pop up on their smartphone to alert them to a recycling opportunity. They will earn points for tossing their can or bottle into the public recycle bin.
  • Using household demographic data, analysts can determine the impact of recycling on the per capita waste generation.

Application of RecycleBeacon Technology

The goal of our company is to provide the free smartphone application to all consumers. Sometimes the recycling effort becomes fragmented between many different municipalities and waste collectors. Our system provides a means of tying together all these efforts. A key benefit will be to Waste Management Companies who will be able to meet and exceed their targets for recyclable waste collection. Of course, in the end, all citizens benefit from increased recycling.

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