Blog

A waste audit journey; pt 1

Consumer recycling behaviors are fascinating.

Bubble wrap, orange cone, boxes in full form – all not acceptable

We’ve spent the past three days up in the very early AM to get a peek inside resident recycling and refuse carts in the City of Wausau, WI. ERbin, in partnership with Rocket Industrial, a packaging solutions provider with its headquarters also in Wausau, is conducting a waste audit for the city. The goal is to learn about resident recycling behaviors so that we can provide better education to residents about how to recycle right.

All stakeholders involved – everyone from the Marathon County Solid Waste Dept., to the private hauler, Harters, to the City of Wausau, to ERbin and Rocket Industrial – we’re all looking to find ways to decrease the amount of materials that end up in landfills.

Curbside cart audit photos
Beautiful! Materials loosely tossed into the cart.

After three days of audits in Wausau, we’re learning that the rockstar recyclers and residents who need a little more education are incredibly geographically diverse. Which begs the question, why are some residents putting more of the right materials into their carts than others?

It all starts with the packaging designers and manufacturers. That’s why we are thrilled Rocket Industrial decided to get involved with the city waste audit. Rocket works directly with brands and manufacturers to help them package with less and with other options such as increasing the recycled content in packaging material. When packaging engineers can see first-hand how consumers make disposal decisions about product packaging, they can re-think packaging design that will lead to more sustainable disposal options.

Great effort with the paperboard boxes, BUT… plastic wrap left on box and boxes not broken down

Curbside audits are a great first step in addressing barriers to recycling right. We’ll be back with more audit findings. For now, enjoy the cart photos from our audit thus far.

3, 2, 1, ERbin Re-launch

We can’t believe it has been six months since we launched the very first version of ERbin in Weston, WI! Thanks to the amazing Weston beta tester feedback, we’ve iterated on the app’s user interface many times, and have added thousands of more products for users to scan.

That means we are ready for a Weston re-launch! Beginning on Monday, September 30, Weston residents will be able to jump on Google Play or the App Store and download the newest version of ERbin (search for erbin).

After you download, have some fun in your kitchen, bathroom, or utility closet and start scanning or searching for products or instructions on how to recycle in Weston recycle bins. Remember, recycling instructions in the app are specific to Weston’s Advanced Disposal customers. That’s because Advanced takes Weston recovered materials to the Portage County Material Recovery Facility (MRF) for processing. Weston neighbors in Wausau or Kronenwetter have a different recycling service provider and processor. The guidelines vary by community – crazy, huh?!

Also super important – Head to Facebook and search for ‘Weston, WI Recycles’ Facebook Group to join an ongoing conversation with us and your fellow Weston friends about how to recycle right. You’ll be able to get answers to questions we are all asking, when it comes to knowing what is acceptable in Weston recycle bins.

Love the app? Help us out by rating us with five stars in the App Store or Google Play.

Have feedback to make the app even better? We’d love to hear from you. Email Co-founder Michelle at mgoetsch@erbinusa.com.

Thanks for staying with us on this exciting journey!

With Gratitude,

Marveling at Madison Food Scrap Program Participants

It’s amazing how asking the simple question “WHY?” can lead to such a positive impact. ERbin began from that very question: WHY? Why is it so difficult to know what to recycle in my local community?

Fourteen months and a lot of learning and progress later, we’re bringing a solution to the table.

It doesn’t have to be hard to know what to toss in your recycle bin or compost cart. When residents have instant access to the right answers, making the right decision is easy.

We’re proving this method as Madison residents use the ERbin app during this summer’s Madison Food Scrap Trial Program taking place during August and September. Community composting programs often fail because just like with recycling, residents put the wrong items in the cart. The business receiving the materials often can’t have that kind of contamination in their compost. The contamination negatively impacts the business’s ability to sell that compost to an end-user.

On Friday, August 2, City of Madison Streets Division drivers picked up the carts from the 125 trial program participants for the first time. The outcomes were fantastic. Gunderson Health System’s Middleton dairy digestor staff were extremely happy with the materials they received. Only three tags left on carts to remind residents about acceptable items.

The Week 2 pick-up took place Friday, August 9. NO cart tags were left behind; a perfect pick-up!

Nearly half of the participants have downloaded the app, and others are participating in our Facebook group or are receiving the program’s weekly emails. We can’t wait for other communities to ask “WHY?” And see how the ERbin app can have a positive impact on decreasing contamination in their composting and recycling programs.

ERbin teams up with City of Madison Food Scrap Program

ERbin-Madison App Screenshot

Fun news! The City of Madison (WI) will begin their Summer 2019 Food Scrap Trial Program on August 2nd – and guess who will be the communication platform for all things acceptable/unacceptable in the food scrap carts? ERbin!

That’s right, the 600-or-so voluntary program participants will be able to download the ERbin app for instant access to a searchable database of items acceptable and unacceptable in their food scrap carts. There is also a tab within the app that gives trial participants instant access to how to properly dispose of many questionable household items.

With the ERbin app, Madison residents will never have to save paper lists, or go online to find items acceptable/unacceptable in their food scrap carts. And this is really important for this particular food scrap program.

Madison Food Scrap Program items are being taken to a digestor – NOT an outdoor compost facility. The list of acceptable items is highly custom and specific only to this particular food scrap program. In fact, we are staying away from using the term ‘compost’ altogether, because there are actually many technically compostable items not acceptable in the program.

We are so excited to be working with Madison on this exciting food scrap program trial! Madison has tried so hard to figure out a successful city-wide food waste diversion initiative, and we think the ERbin app as a resident communication platform is really going to ensure only the RIGHT items are going into food scrap carts. Together, we are going to make sure Madison gets a long-term food waste diversion program.

Raising money; raising a startup

ERbin recycling app

About 10 weeks ago, we challenged our Weston, WI ERbin app beta testers to scan as many products as possible before June 6 – the last day of school for the DC Everest School District. The purpose of the scan challenge was to (1) motivate testers to continue using the app (so we can make it better), (2) educate about what’s actually acceptable in Weston recycling bins, and (3) raise money for Recycling Connections so that they could do some recycling infrastructure analysis and education for staff and students and Weston Elementary School.

Awesome news! Our testers scanned 716 products during that time period. That means we get to donate $358 to Recycling Connections!

We are so grateful to have an amazing org like Recycling Connections right here in central WI! And we’re thrilled that staff at Weston Elementary gladly jumped into the opportunity to do more good for their school, students, and the earth!

What’s next for ERbin? We are spending the summer loading thousands of products into our app’s database, among many other exciting developments! The more products we have in our database, the closer we become to bringing the app to residents across the county so we can ALL recycle right.

The war on contamination in the residential recycling stream doesn’t stand a chance.

Stay tuned to our startup journey here, or on Facebook or Instagram.

With gratitude,

ERbin CEO & Co-founder

Week 3 Scan Challenge

Week 3 Scan Challenge Products!

It’s Week 3 of the Weston Scan Challenge. All you need to do is download the ERbin app and scan at least five of the products listed below to find out what is acceptable in your Weston recycling bin. And just for added inspiration, we’ll send you a $5 grocery gift card when you create an account in ERbin (just need a name and email) AND scan those five products. Scan at the store OR at home – doesn’t matter. We KNOW you’ve always wondered if that plastic egg carton is acceptable. Now is the time to find out. Happy Scanning! And remember – the ERbin app’s how-to-recycle info is only relevant to Village of Weston (WI) residents who have Advanced Disposal as your recycling hauler. We’ll grow to more communities soon!