UMD Students Aim to Change Recycling as We Know It

Recycling and compost bins can be found throughout campus at the University of Maryland.  Despite the university’s efforts to reduce waste, much of the materials collected in these bins ends up in a landfill because people do not know how to properly sort their waste. 

From this fact, three UMD students formed a mission: to eliminate contamination in recycling and compost bins.  Ardy Djourabtchi, Chris Langreo, and Jason Malkofsky-Berger launched Recyclify, a mobile app that incentivizes and teaches people to use recycling and compost bins correctly.

In Fall 2017 the trio decided to start their project at the Adele H. Stamp Student Union, the location with one of the highest contamination rates on campus.  They created an app that tracks each student’s recycling behavior and rewards them with points that are redeemable for discounts at Stamp restaurants. The app provides users with a full list of each recyclable and compostable item from each restaurant at the food court.  In other words, Recyclify teaches users how to properly separate their trash down to the item.

Djourabtchi, a senior economics major, says that learning how to recycle correctly is an easy but impactful way everyone in the community can make a difference. “We believe that gamifying recycling will not only give students a reason to learn what items are and aren’t recyclable, but it will also show them how impactful their actions are with their very own ecological footprint.”   

To initiate the pilot, Recyclify received a mini-grant from the University Sustainability Fund and a Do Good Mini-Grant.  Djourabtchi admits that after extensive research, “we were pretty confident competing for our grants because we felt that we found a true problem that needed to be addressed.”  Contaminated recycling is an issue that impacts UMD and other organizations nationwide.

The Recyclify team audits their waste weekly to monitor contamination rates. Recycling facilities can reject or charge additional fees on recycling loads that have more than 15% contamination.  According to Djourabtchi, the Recyclify bin’s contamination rate averages at 5% each week.  The team says they’re pleased with these results, but they continue to set larger-scale goals.    

Recyclify is currently a Do Good Challenge Semi-Finalist in the Venture track. They hope to advance to the Finals to compete for a chance to win a share of more than $20,000.‚Äč The team says they plan to use the money to make technological advances to their bin so that it can self-check if a person used it correctly.

According to Djourabtchi, Recyclify’s biggest goal is to make a fully-automated bin that sorts itself, “We believe this would make recycling as effective as possible and eliminate human error. It’s our moonshot.”

To learn more about recycling on campus, visit https://sustainability.umd.edu/campus/waste.

By Samantha Walker, Communications Intern, Office of Sustainability