Recycling bin contamination is a huge problem, so last week we took some new technology out to a group of government and non government schools for testing; it passed with flying colours. This problem though is much broader than schools; just look at almost any office staff room recycling bin, or wait to see the cleaners throwing the contents of contaminated recycling bins into the general waste stream. Our mission with Charopy is to solve this problem for anything non-kerbside, as contaminated recycling going to landfill is not being solved just with signage and education, but it can be solved with technology. The most valuable waste in any organisation is container deposit scheme material, so even for companies not interested in the fact that a recycled aluminium can creates around 95% less CO2 than a newly created can, isolating CDS waste can actually reduce your overall waste collection costs. Thank you to St Rose Catholic Primary School from Broken Bay Diocese for allowing me to share this video.


We are still testing some different designs, so the form of the bin lid will almost certainly change over the coming months, but the technology that enables this to be done cost effectively was the hard part and this has now been solved. We are in discussions with various corporate clients about modifying the existing lid that fits on a standard 240 litre wheelie bin, as the office bin will look very different to this. We are expecting less complexity in that version as it is unlikely the office bin will need a screen, and it probably won't need a Near Field Communication antenna either if it is purely designed to eliminate contamination and is not required to make payment to the person depositing the rubbish into the recycling bin. So in some ways the primary school smart bin is the most complex one we envisage - when you are specifically designing something to work in places where a true reverse vending machine is not viable due to cost or size, and you want something that does not require a technician to install or service the item, then less complexity is a good thing.

  • Martin

Based upon the early success of our pilot schools, we have been getting some good interest from various parties wanting to know more about how we are bringing innovation to the container deposit scheme in NSW; with hopefully other states and many more schools to follow. Earlier this week we were mentioned in the NSW Parliament where Victor Dominello gave a very comprehensive speech about how Charopy "aims to build positive, sustainable habits early and has been shown to increase kids' tendency to recycle."


This was following the Minister coming out to see Charopy in action at one of the schools in his electorate of Ryde. I was impressed with the way he really took time to understand the technology, even to the point of downloading an NFC reader app onto his own phone so he could experience the way a parent checks the balance on their child's wristband and also to experience some of the gamification elements we have built within Charopy to increase the fun and engagement levels for kids when it comes to learning about sustainability. Victor also put up some great posts on his various social media channels.

A few weeks before that we spent the morning with the Channel Nine News crew who filmed a nice light-hearted segment at Eastwood Public School that illustrated really well the process of children returning their eligible single use drink containers for recycling, earning the 10c onto their wristbands, and then spending that money in the canteen. If you want to understand the typical way Charopy works within a primary school in only two minutes, then click the link above as reporter Mike Dalton did a great job explaining the process, adding in his own special brand of humour along the way. I use the phrase typical way as even for schools without a canteen, or schools who want to use Charopy for fundraising, there are different ways the technology can be implemented at a school besides our most common model.


In the past month we have also had students from the Northern Beaches make a video that was shown to other schools visiting Taronga Zoo. It showed how they are using Charopy to drive increased recycling activity and sustainability awareness among their fellow students. There clearly are more people, companies and government departments I can't mention here, and whilst it is always heartwarming to see children at existing schools really embrace recycling, it is also very good to hear from new people who want to learn more about how they might implement Charopy at their school, or companies looking to work with us in some way. We are always very open to hearing from people wanting to know more about our unique approach to school recycling programs, as we have some very exciting plans and new technical developments in the pipeline; with recycling such a hot topic at the moment, there is still plenty of room for further innovation.

Updated: Jul 25, 2019

I was up on stage in front of about 200 people last night at Fishburners in the Sydney CBD as the theme of the night was early stage businesses making an environmental impact. The timing worked out quite well, as during the current school term just ended we have been surveying parents at Charopy pilot schools to ask them about their children's interaction with the NSW container deposit scheme (CDS), also known as Return & Earn. We have then been comparing those survey responses with the data we can see on our system showing how many children are using Charopy at a school and how often those children are returning eligible material for a refund and recycling.


I made a pretty bold claim in my presentation, and I was very clear to give the caveat that we need to continue surveying parents at new Charopy schools to increase the sample size, but the early results are leading me towards becoming more comfortable in claiming that:


"Charopy has improved the impact of a government program within a target demographic by a factor of 2 to 3 times"


This is the slide I used.



If you firstly look at how many primary school age children have returned a single use drink container for a 10c refund in the past month, it looks like about a quarter of kids. As I get a bigger sample size I'll be happy to post again with updated numbers, and I'm guessing it may vary widely based upon the suburb or town in which the families live as some areas are better serviced by refund collection points than others. In our most successful initial implementation of Charopy at a school we have got that number up to 90%, meaning 9 out of every 10 children offered a wristband have returned a drink container for a refund at least once in the first month.


I actually think the second measure (Frequency) is the more important one, as I'd rather see a child return 5 cans a day every weekday for a fortnight, than turn up once with a big bag of 50 cans (our schools limit the amount of containers per day to 5 or 10, so not a perfect example). The money paid to the child is the same in both scenarios, but habits are created by repetition, and if we want children to embrace sustainability and modify their behaviour in a positive and lasting way, then smaller more frequent interactions with the CDS are more likely to make a lasting impression about the importance of recycling than more irregular infrequent interactions. In our survey parents of around one in ten children claimed their child had been to a CDS collection point two or more times in the past month. With Charopy, we are seeing a much, much higher number of multiple interactions per month with around 10% of children handing in containers for recycling five or more times in a month. I've seen quite a few children returning items to personally receive a refund ten or more times in a month which is almost unthinkable in other CDS models.


If you are serious about making a big impact with children and improving their interest in recycling by harnessing a container deposit scheme, I believe it is essential to factor some of the Charopy learnings into your program. Ideally the children receive the financial reward, but even in a fundraising model, the peer recognition part is crucial to maximise impact, and look at how we have introduced gamification elements to further drive engagement to deliver the types of numbers shown above. In terms of peer recognition I have seen children's names read out in assembly when they have done a lot of recycling, leaderboards within individual classes and school leaderboards of top student recyclers posted in front of the canteen.


My team and I are continuing to talk with customers to look at new features we can add to further strengthen these strong early results, but normally data showing an improvement in a government scheme of 10% or 20% would be hailed as a major achievement. If our numbers with future schools implementing Charopy continue to show a doubling or tripling of engagement and frequency in the CDS then I believe we could have a major environmental impact over time as the next generation learns to embrace recycling and sustainability as just a normal part of life. The thought that Charopy might actually be able to play a part in this desired outcome is what makes the job so rewarding.

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