Recycling products' packages is very tiresome and even confusing. The policy not only differs from community to community but also changes over time. The instruction at the recycling site often lacks specific information and can be misleading even to people who are environmentally conscious. Even for the first step in recycling, the information gap between the supply and the demand bottlenecks the whole industry to effectively collect recyclable materials. We designed an app that is paired with the grocery store network and automatically notifies the customer about the updated, accurate, and location-specific best practices for recycling materials.
What it does
The customer first scans an app generated barcode whenever checking out at a team member grocery store that pairs his/her Sort It Out account with a specific purchase. Through referencing the grocery store's catalog, Sort It Out automatically import the purchase list with every specific item purchased. At the same time, the screen at the kiosk not only shows the scanned item and its price but also shows the local waste management method using visual as well as contextual information. This information is retrieved from a large database from Sort It Out gathered by environmental experts. The customer also receives discounts on targeted products from the grocery store as a benefit of membership with Sort It Out. The customer can continue to check out and use the items as usual. Whenever the customer wants to throw away the waste or the product package, the customer can always refer back to the app to get the updated, accurate, and location-specific instruction for recycling materials that has the least environmental impact. The app provides detailed information about every part of the product package and their recycling method.
In turn, Sort It Out provides purchase information including date, location, and items to all the team member grocery store. The grocery store may benefit from this data in a variety of ways. For example, a purchasing profile can be generated for every customer and team member grocery stores can provide discounts to the specific customer to maximize their profit. In the end, the system benefits not only the customer due to the potential savings on grocery but also the waste management system, creating profit and economic growth for the recycling industry.
How we built it
From the programming side, we hosted our web server by using Flask. We programmed extensively in python. Originally we used MongoDB for our database but then switched to a regular SQL database. The user would register an account, then be added to our database. The user will be connected to their different receipts that would be sent from different stores. Users can fetch their receipt, which is stored in the database. Then check how to recycle each item on their receipt. We built a database on how to recycle a multitude of items from research.
Challenges we ran into
The biggest challenge was creating a working app. Our team had no experience with doing a full stack application. We had some of the backend working and the database working. We had to learn on how to set up a front end and connect that to our backend. There was a lot of troubleshooting. We had trouble fetching data from our database. Our two programmers tried different things at the beginning. That did not lead to a lot of productivity. We finally settled on doing flask and python but both of the programmers lacked experience on making a full stack application on the flask.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
We’re proud that we got a full stack application partially working. We have a little of everything in the stack, but a little of everything is not working properly. A user can make an account and log in. They can access their receipt. But they can’t link their items to instructions on how to dispose of it.
What we learned
Waste management is very complicated and a sustainable system must be profitable. There are multiple chains and players within the waste management industry. The chaotic systematic assortment and collection of recyclable material heavily limit the profit of the entire industry, harming both the environment and economy. Large scale behavioral change in people's everyday life can show a promising result in the overall growth of the industry and may change the current devastating state of our waste management system.
What's next for Sort It Out
Machine Learning to decide the materials of the product and automatically search for the best recycle method.
Provide lists for the most environmentally friendly packages and brands. Compare and rank the sustainability of every product. Promote transparency on corporations sustainability policies. Stimulate competitions between corporations into designing easy-to-recycle product and manufacturing recyclable material.