North America is swimming in a sea of recyclables, both literally and figuratively. Many of the bottles and cans we use every day are being put to reuse, but most are still ending up on the sides of roads, in our oceans and taking up space in landfills. According to Earth911, Americans buy 29.8 billion water bottles every year. Plastics products account for four percent of the country’s energy consumption, and throwing away one aluminum can rather than recycling it wastes as much energy as half a can of gasoline.
These are some pretty incredible numbers, and the resources at stake are even larger when we consider all the other materials currently going to waste, like food, glass and paper. While the problem is large, so is the opportunity, and right now is a great time for change. With more people becoming aware of their environmental footprints and with new technologies coming to market, the next generation of recyclers is now making their mark.
A new program to recycle called Greenopolis is described by Anthony Zolezzi, Greenopolis’ Creative Director.
“Innovation is needed to expand recycling, particularly recycling away from home, and I helped develop and launch the Greenopolis Recycling System about two years ago to fill this gap,” says Zolezzi. “In creating Greenopolis, we established an interactive platform that uses both physical and digital technology to make recycling easy, fun and rewarding for its users.”
Today, with more than 30 thousand Facebook fans and 60 thousand Twitter followers, Greenopolis is firmly taking its place as a leading next generation recycler.
The technology is advanced but easy for consumers to embrace. People deposit recyclables into digital kiosks placed at high-traffic locations across the United States. (Plans are afoot to expand the program to Canada soon.) The system awards points for every item recycled, which are redeemable on www.greenopolis.com for a variety of discounts from restaurants, theaters and retail establishments.
Users may also go online to track their progress and learn about sustainable living.
Greenopolis uses both digital and physical platforms to advance awareness and increase recycling. And while there are a lot of programs that allow people to deposit bottles and cans, Greenopolis is one of the few that actually rewards its users for recycling. And beyond that, it also rewards people for participating on its website, playing Oceanopolis (its Facebook game), and using a number of its other social networking properties (Facebook, Twitter, etc.).
The web portal is loaded with facts and tips on living a lifestyle that’s good for the environment. The rewards program is expanding; participants can earn a growing variety of goods and services from big-named companies to local mom-and-pops, and rewards vary from zip code to zip code, based on local markets.
“Since launching this technology, we have captured over five million items for recycling and distributed more than nine million points,” Zolezzi says, and these figures are growing. On average, one Greenopolis recycling kiosk captures 285 plastic bottles and 185 aluminum cans a day, which means that in one year, a single kiosk will offset more than 400,000 pounds of CO2. That’s making an impact.
The program, however, isn’t stopping there; it’s expanding into new areas to capture even more materials.
Greenopolis is now testing software called Scan@Home, which allows people to scan items they recycle at home to earn reward points through Greenopolis.com. The technology is simple to use and is currently being integrated into several cellular devices, including iPhones and Androids. Imagine earning rewards for something you (hopefully) are already doing at home!
Another new venture, still in early stages but with lots of potential, is toy recycling. Greenopolis recently launched its first ever electronic toy recycling event, held in Vancouver, British Columbia in partnership with the Canadian Toy Association.
“With digital gadgets’ short life spans, we knew there were likely to be significant numbers of unwanted electronic toys, which should be recycled to reclaim valuable resources and keep heavy metals out of landfills,” says Zolezzi. “Sure enough, we had lines of kids returning their unwanted toys. We scanned everything that had a bar code, and while kids were given points for their participation, we also had raffles to give rewards on the spot. This was a lot of fun, but also a good learning opportunity for the children involved.”
Whether bottles, cans or toys, Greenopolis represents a big step forward in recycling. Not only are items collected for reuse, but the integrated digital software, online participation and in-person interaction to reward users is changing behaviors one bottle at a time. That’s recycling for a new generation.
Wes Muir is Director of Communications for Waste Management Inc. in Toronto, Ontario. Contact Wes at firstname.lastname@example.org