It’s not unusual for cities to struggle to communicate with citizens—especially when it comes to garbage pickup, delays and what does and doesn’t go into recycle bins. In Dallas, the sanitation services department had one challenge they were determined to fix—communicating to residents the right time for bulk and brush setouts. After sending out reminders by email, social media and mailers to communicate with residents, confusion continued about which day was the right day.
So the city’s Sanitation Services Department set out to find a better way.
“We tried a number of things, so we thought that the next step would be to have a tool that’s on the website or on a mobile device that residents can use to keep track of their collection days and other events on the go,” says Sanitation Services Manager of Zero Waste Murray Myers.
So now, well, there’s an app for that.
The department is launching the new app to help ease the way for residents to find collections schedules and sign up for reminders for things like bulk and brush setouts, recycling round ups and even weather delays. The app is available online and is downloadable for free on Apple and Android mobile devices.
Residents who download and sign up for the app get a personalized collection calendar, complete with collection dates, and automatic reminders via email, tweet, voice mail and/or text, or, for mobile devices, a push message. Users can even choose when they want the reminder delivered. The app also offers information on how to properly reuse, recycle, compost or dispose of various materials. Notifications can be sent with information on seasonal campaigns such as electronics recycling, batteries, oil, paint, and antifreeze collection, Christmas tree recycling and more. Emergency closing, service delays or additions for weather etc. also can be sent to users in a timely manner. So, says Myers, the more that sign up, the better.
If they’d prefer no reminder at all, but could use some help remembering those special pickups, users can export their collection calendar to their Outlook, Google Calendar or similar web calendars.
Additionally, the app offers a recyclables search tool with a database listing 200-300 materials that residents can search through and get information on the best destination for that material.
“So even if they put in ‘clothes,’ it will recommend they donate them to a local thrift store or nonprofit,” says Myers. “If they put in ‘Styrofoam’, which isn’t accepted, it will tell them, ‘that should go in the garbage, but if you like, here’s another option where you can take it to a drop-off site.’
The department is encouraging residents to test out the search tool and make suggestions for other items that could be added to the database. “It’s a tool that is here to stay and we’ll continue to improve on it, and continue to add items to as the waste stream changes,” he says.
The more residents know about recycling, the better. The more they use the recycling search tool—the sooner people will be recycling properly, Myers says. “Instead of putting contaminants into the recycling stream, they now have a better idea of what should go into the recycling bin. So from that aspect, we’re hoping contamination will actually decrease.”
At the same time, he says, someone who had been tossing shampoo bottles into the trash, may learn it can be recycled. They can learn what does and doesn’t go into the recycling stream.
So, it’s especially important for those who are not recycling at all.
In Dallas, approximately 79 percent of households recycle. But for those households that may not be recycling, those scheduled reminders can come with a tag encouraging them to come to a recycling roundup or letting them know that recycling in the City of Dallas is free and invite them to sign up for the service.
In the City of Dallas, residents recycle more than 55,000 tons of material a year, says Myers. With a Zero Waste goal for the city by 2040, improving loads of recyclables can’t hurt.
“It’s another tool to get people to recycle right, says Myers. “But it’s also encourages residents who just signed up for the reminders, to start recycling.”
And as those searches come in, the department gets an idea of what people are looking for on the recycling tool, which will help them know what to address with residents in marketing materials—eventually maybe even allowing them to reduce the amount of marketing funds spent to get the word out all together. Already, Styrofoam and plastic bags, seem to get a lot of searches, Myers says, and still seem to cause confusion when it comes to disposal. That information can be added to marketing materials to help clarify and improve recycling loads.
Another component of the app, that’s been very popular with students, he says, is the waste sorting game where players must choose the right disposal option for a specific material. If a tire pops up, for example, it needs to be sent to the transfer station for recycling.
The app has been in soft launch mode since early February, when the department began rolling it out and making sure there were no issues. It went live last Monday.
“It was officially launched in the media on Monday and on Tuesday we had 1,000 people signed up for reminders.”