The City of Auburn recently updated its website to include a new application to help residents distinguish which materials are recyclable, which materials are compostable and which materials belong in the trash bin.
The application has a search bar where users type in the item they are looking to discard and the engine will explain how to properly discard it.
The application also has a sorting game where players are given a specific item and tasked with dragging the item to the proper location, whether it be garbage, recycling, yard trash, compost, a hazardous waste facility or a recycling drop-off center.
Catrina Cook, Auburn’s director of environmental services, said the City has a responsibility to inform the public on how to properly recycle.
“We want to make sure we can help people in the process and also change the environment,” Cook said.
Cook said she felt that the public had some questions the City needed to answer in order to increase efficiency in the City’s recycling process.
“How can we grow our program to address the needs of the City, the citizens and the environment at the same time?” Cook said.
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City employees discovered that technology would be an effective way of solving this problem.
“When we discovered the ReCollect App of ‘What Goes Where?’ we were just like, ‘This will help with some of the questions that people have,’” Cook said. “This is something that is quick, it’s easy, it’s accessible and it helps eliminate the possibility of contamination in our single-stream recycling process.”
Single-stream recycling allows residents to combine all their recyclable materials in one container, but problems quickly arise when residents do not follow the specific guidelines. These may seem like minor requirements, but if they are not followed, they can have major effects on the efficiency of single-stream recycling systems.
One of the main issues pushing the need for this application is contamination when recycling. Contamination happens when non-recyclable items are mixed in with recyclables items or when recyclable items are placed in the wrong recycling bins.
“We have about 76% of our population recycling, but one of the issues that we’re having a problem with is contamination,” Cook said. “We’ve been concentrating on our education efforts with communities so we can reduce contamination of what we’re taking.”
In the 30 days that followed the release of the application, the use of the City’s recycling program spiked, with a significant decrease in contamination.
Mary Crapet, a senior in graphic design, had never used the application before and gave her first impression of what she thought. A question she had was why certain things like plastic bags or soiled paper were not accepted, even though they were made of a recyclable material.
“There were things where I was like, ‘Well, why can’t this be recycled?’” Crapet said.
Logan French, a sophomore in industrial design, felt that the app was helpful, but that it could still be improved in some ways.
“The sorting game is a good way to remember what to recycle and what not to recycle,” French said. “Something the application could do better is explaining how and why certain items can’t be taken.”
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