We have been passionately involved in organizing environmental activities for years as volunteers. Although the unexpected pandemic paused our service-learning events, we reached out to offer help in other possible ways to continue our commitment to service despite the constraints. From the education coordinator of the county’s waste management (Ms. Kyra Levau), we learned that composting is a high priority area. We felt a personal connection to this issue as we often toss away valuable food waste without thought and as we ate at home more, the problem has only gotten worse. With this need in mind, we researched more composting information regarding its significance and barriers. We consulted with experts and surveyed families to understand deterring factors. Unlike recycling, there is no convenient government-operated curbside food waste collection service. It is imperative to motivate people to compost food waste and give them key information to address this unmet aspect of daily environmental action. We initially wished to just partake in research but soon felt the urge to use technology to create and motivate action. This led us to develop GoCompost, a friendly and practical tool to make composting easier and more accessible for everyone.

What it does

GoCompost app promotes composting as an actionable solution to today’s food waste crisis. Its thoughtful UI design features four pages, titled Check, Map, Impact, and Community, to target the common needs for our community members. “Check” (verified with county experts to ensure appropriateness) helps users find out if waste is compostable to avoid contamination. “Map” assists with locating organic waste collection centers. “Impact” logs and tracks activities, helping users know that they are making a difference. “Community” connects people to collectively improve composting knowledge and share ideas and support. Leveraging smartphone and cloud technology, GoCompost enables instant and positive engagement to help users build composting habits. As a scalable and portable solution, GoCompost can compound individual green efforts and build long-lasting community impact.

How we built it

After reaching out to local government to learn about key community issues of food waste, we researched and designed features essential to users and communities. We each focused on certain features of the app, from the map and check features, to the impact and community features, but we also worked together to plan and develop these parts of the app. We thoroughly designed the UI to be user friendly and make composting resources and support easily accessible. We built the app using JavaScript and the React Native framework, allowing us to easily expand the app to different types of devices. We also programmed other features, such as the ability to link user information with accounts by email or Google login. This, along with Google’s Cloud Firestore database, enabled us to easily expand features displaying composting centers and community events to many different communities, allowing us to reach more users and encourage them to compost.

Challenges we ran into

Our first challenge was to design an engaging UI, which had to be intuitive and useful, helping people to overcome barriers and compost regularly. We surveyed people from different backgrounds on why they didn’t compost and what could motivate and help them. We wish we could have more interactions, but they were limited by the pandemic. We also looked at other apps for critical comparison, and finally came to uniquely position our solution like a workout app to suit a broader audience. Our approach to the problem focused on generating community interest, personal awareness, and commitment to taking action. We were able to come up with an attractive design and useful features directly addressing the most pressing needs. Another challenge was that integration took more time than what we originally expected. To get our parts to work together, we had to spend many late nights to discuss and test.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

The app was thoughtfully designed, programmed, and optimized to leverage modern smartphone and cloud technology, enabling users to conveniently integrate composting into their daily routine. The app is now released in the Google Play Store and the App Store. It is proudly one of its kind to help our community to take part in composting and sustainable efforts. We are proud to have received positive feedback from the app’s test users on its engaging and user-friendly interface. In one instance, a family reduced more than 60% of their usual trash as they adopted composting habits. We are hopeful that the long-term impact of the GoCompost app can be significant.

What we learned

On a personal level, we learned a lot about the subject matter of composting, and the wide berth of technical skills needed to deliver a full app. Additionally, through this project, I’ve learned about the effect of these pressing environmental issues on, and important knowledge and resources within, our own community. We’ve also had the chance to work on improving our teamwork, with our work to communicate and integrate, and engaging with the community to deliver the most useful tool. We are grateful to have received lots of support and guidance from community leaders, teachers and volunteers.

What's next for GoCompost

With GoCompost released in both the Google Play Store and App Store, we expect to gain even more adoption and hope to see some long-term environmental benefits. Community interest and invitation prompted us to plan more seminars to promote the GoCompost app and get young people excited about cutting food and all waste. Further improvements to our app could include community groups, AI image recognition, additional educational resources, and expanding the reach of our app to encourage more people in different areas to compost. We will build on our experience and community feedback to further develop more apps, events and seminars to promote sustainable actions.

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