Turning to technology

Hard-to-find information about waste management services can negatively impact recycling behaviour. Derry City and Strabane District Council, however, has created an app to ensure residents are always kept in the loop. Amelia Kelly reports.

When it comes to waste and recycling, more often than not individuals experience confusion around what bin to put out, when. In fact, in a poll of 2,000 UK residents conducted by Divert, it was found that 93 per cent had forgotten to put their bins out for collection. In fact, 43 per cent of respondents admitted that they forget on a regular basis, and 62 per cent said they never know which bin goes out each week, relying on neighbours for guidance.

LA Profile Derry App It is clear that instructional guidance needs to improve, as concluded in WRAP’s Recycling Tracker 2021. Alongside our perplexity around recycling, we have become ever more reliant on mobile phones, with apps to support every aspect of our modern life: global app downloads reached a record 230 billion in 2021, up by more than 63 per cent on 2016 figures. 

With this in mind, and in an effort to increase and improve recycling, local authorities are beginning to embrace technology in order to encourage change in residents’ behaviour. Derry City and Strabane District Council’s (DCSDC) waste and recycling sector has recently been boosted by the launch of a new and bespoke recycling app that replaces their previous 3rd party app from Binnovation.

Created as part of the EU-funded project EMERGREEN, or ‘Emerging Technologies for Greener Communities’, DCSDC’s new app aligns with EMERGREEN’s aim to develop technology to help people live more sustainably.

The app incorporates multiple features, from personalised reminders about which bin to leave out each week, to details on what can be recycled. Push notifications can sync with users’ personal calendars to proactively keep residents up to date with changes in bin collection schedules or local waste management services, saving them from searching for answers.

Speaking about the importance of creating a native mobile app, Anne Carlin, Marketing Officer at DCSDC, commented: “We need to make things as easy as possible for citizens. I think the days of people
trundling through web pages are numbered. People need information and they want to be able to find it very quickly.”

Celebrating this development, Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Alderman Graham Warke, stated: “We can all be guilty of getting mixed up with which bin goes out each week or with knowing which colour of bin our different waste goes into, and this app is such a handy way for people to address those issues.

“Technology is such a huge part of all of our lives, so this is a simple, easy and completely free way to stay on top of things at the touch of a button.”

However, Anne Carlin explained that developing the reminder system was a considerable challenge for DCSDC as it involved accurately mapping and digitising all bin collection routes – information that was previously paper-based, handwritten and ‘colloquial’: “It was quite an exercise but really worthwhile to do, so we can get the most up-to-date digital information.”

The app developer’s in-house Route Optimization Officer cooperated with every DCSDC bin crew leader to incorporate different routes, areas and services.

This article was taken from Issue 103

These digitised bin collection routes have since been integrated into a ‘Chatbot’ on the council’s website to give personalised information to local residents in real-time – a first of its kind for Northern Ireland Councils. It has also been valuable for “other cross-cutting software systems” that the Council use – such as in-vehicle systems, plus tracking and monitoring. New estates and housing can easily be added to the app, with new residents able to order a bin via an e-commerce facility.

Every element of DSCDC’s new bespoke app is solely the Council’s branding: “We’ve taken ownership of it. We are positively promoting the Council as the lead on household recycling services and reuse.”

EMERGREEN’s funding was essential – the development process began with updating the Council’s 10-year-old website. The funding bid then covered the creation of the ‘Chatbot’ technology, followed by the app.

Speaking about why Derry City and Strabane’s app was chosen for the funding, Anne Marie McLaughlin, Programme Manager at ERNACT, said: “The goal of the service is to:

  1. Improve access to sustainability information for businesses and the public
  2. Improve communications on Waste and Recycling services
  3. Deliver better service to the public while reducing staff overheads
  4. DCSDC’s app provides access to information on waste reduction and management, bin collections, recycling services, etc. 24/7. It is also helping people to report issues more easily, allowing council staff to concentrate on the more complex questions.”