Technology and citizen involvement achieve a near 40% improvement in the recycling rate of a London borough

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Londoner's Lab

As part of National Recycling Week in the UK, a pilot urban innovation project was presented recently in London which highlights the possibility of increasing the organic waste recycling rate by around 40%.

The project, driven by the Londoners’ Lab program, aims to improve the organic waste recycling rate and is implemented through a novel smart waste bin named “Bin Pal” developed by Ferrovial Services together with Amey, Greater London Authority, University College London and Future Cities Catapult.

The project’s goal was to support London’s goal of enhancing its recycling rates, specifically in connection with organic household waste. Greater London Authority (the administrative authority for the greater metropolitan area) aims to achieve a household recycling rate of 65% by 2030, and a carbon emissions-free city by 2050. Organic waste poses a specific challenge for the city: the United Kingdom generates 7 million tons of organic waste (food, beverages…) and disposing of it in landfills is particularly harmful for the environment.

To improve citizens’ awareness and commitment to recycling, the Londoners’ Lab program invited them to design the initiative for their local community. The program’s citizen involvement aspect hinged on residents participating in the design. Due to the use of technology and visual elements, citizens were made aware of the importance of recycling food waste in order to enhance waste triage at source.

The program was carried out in cooperation with the Borough of Ealing plus a small group of citizens, local residents, councillors and researchers, to identify best practices, hold workshops and promote initiatives. As a result, a team from University College London developed a prototype waste bin called “Bin Pal” which was installed for a group of 43 households for a 3-month period. This technology, which interacts with citizens through sounds and emoticons when waste is placed in the bin, helped improve the organic waste recycling rate by 38%.

Councillor Mik Sabiers, member of the Ealing Council Cabinet for Environment and Highways, said: “We are committed to making recycling easy for everyone and, at the same time, to making the Borough more environmentally-friendly. We have observed a significant increase in recycling rates in the area where the project was deployed. Recycling is one of the key areas where we want to improve, so we will try and replicate this initiative in other areas of the Borough.”

“A recycling rate over 50% puts Ealing among the top London Boroughs in this regard; nevertheless, we are determined to continue to improve this ratio. Our goal is to achieve a 60% recycling rate by 2022, and I am convinced that innovative projects such as ‘Bin Pal’ will help us meet this challenge.”

“We are very satisfied with the results of this pilot project, which shows how important it is to put citizens at the heart of designing innovative urban solutions. We are convinced that there is an opportunity to work with key stakeholders to develop solutions for improving recycling rates that are scalable to larger boroughs.”

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