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.