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.

I hear the word "gamify"" a lot these days, typically used in the context of trying to make a product more compelling by introducing competitive elements amonsgt users. Since Day One at Charopy the goal has been to get kids more engaged with recycling, but we have never been in favour of simply preaching at children about the importance of sustainability and hoping that they would just modify their behaviour accordingly.

There is an old saying "what gets rewarded gets done" and the rewards when schools adopt Charopy comes in two key ways. Firstly children are rewarded financially because they earn money on their wristband for every eligible container returned. That money is theirs to spend in the canteen, or in whatever manner the school decides. The second way children are rewarded is through peer recognition, and this is where the gamification element comes in. To illustrate this I am showing below the screen parents see when looking at the available balance on a child's Charopy account.

In the illustration above, this particular child is the 4th best recycler in class 5L at that school; in the 14 days prior there were three children in 5L that returned more eligible drink containers for recycling. This data can be shared with the class teacher who can put a weekly leaderboard up in the classroom if desired, or the children can simply ask their parents to check their position daily. By bringing a competitive element into recycling we are tapping into the desire of children to win, and what could be better than harnessing this desire to drive a positive change in behaviour that hopefully will begin to build longer term habits of embracing a more sustainable way of life as they mature.

Updated: Jul 4, 2019

The are two different ways to view the current amount your child has to spend on his or her Charopy wristband. When you first registered or anytime you Add Funds, you will receive an email confirmation with a URL that you can click. Please bookmark this URL if you want to check the balance often. You will also be able to view a list of all recent transactions.

The second way is way more high tech, and always seems to impress people when I show them. But the downside is it only works on some phones - most Androids and the newer iPhones.

If your Android phone supports Google Pay or Samsung Pay and you have NFC activated in Settings then you should be able to tap onto your child's wristband in order to see the current balance of his or her account. Please note that this feature is only activated on the wristband once your child has done his or her first 'earn' transaction through recycling. For iPhone users, the versions 7, 8 and X iPhones can only read NFC Tags if you download and open an NFC reading app first, but the newer XS, XS Max and XR iPhones operate in a similar way to most Android NFC phones in that so long as you have NFC turned on in Settings, then simply tapping your phone against your child's Charopy wristband will show the current balance and recent transaction history.

I've heard of parents doing this every morning before the kids leave the house, and I've even had one person tell me how great this feature is as they simply tap the child's phone after school and know how much money and at what times of the day that child spent money in the school canteen, and even whether or not that child returned any items for recycling that day rather than throwing them into the general rubbish bin.

Please note that the internal NFC antenna within the phone is located in different locations on different devices, so it may not work in exactly the same way (corner of phone) as illustrated in the diagram above. If this method fails on your phone, then just click the link sent in the email confirmation you receive anytime you Add Funds to your child's Charopy account and you will see the same account information.