SMART trash solutions for the SDGs

SMART trash solutions for the SDGs

by carolegrange weiyi | updated September 21, 2017

Creation of an education platform to learn about global recycling infrastructures in China and the environmental, social and economic benefits of recycling and a trash classification scanner to introduce chinese schoolchildren into recycling from a different perspective. The project integrates open-source technologies to provide an interactive educational experience.


Globally, more than 3.5 million tons of trash is generated each day, which has significant environmental, social and economic consequences at both the local and global level. Though recycling programs offer opportunities to minimize the negative impacts of landfilling and extract value from discarded materials, they are often complex and global systems that involve numerous public and private organizations, and require individuals to participate and make informed decisions when discarding items. Proper recycling education, therefore, is an essential component for a successful recycling initiative.

This project will address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by creating an educational platform to learn about global recycling infrastructure and the environmental, social and economic benefits of recycling. The project will integrate open-source technologies with recycling bins to provide an interactive educational experience, as well as create incentives to motivate positive recycling behavior. This project is in collaboration with an existing project, eCan, and will expand the capabilities of eCan through a study of user motivations, interactions and message delivery, and creating a development pipeline for a scalable, sustainable and educational eCan platform.

Two students from the SDG Summer School are actively working on the project, which are Carole Grange from the University of Geneva and Weiyi Qiu from Tsinghua University. Inspired by speakers from WTO, UNICEF, WEF, and the Humanitarian Lab, they have come up with the initiative of "children for impact", which empowers elementary school students in China to take care of the environment. It encourages students to build their own prototypes of trash bins in craft classes and use the hand-made trash bins at home. The project will also actively seek cooperation with institutions and industry, including CUSP at NYU, elementary school faculty, environmental startups based in China, and the Beijing government, etc. It will also explore how to engage more people in the sustainable development goals via crowd funding.

July 10, 2017 at 3:55 PM
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Trash bin at CERN, Central Station of Geneva, the University of Geneva, and prototype made from legos.

July 10, 2017 at 4:17 PM
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We are Weiyi and Carole from University of Tsinghua and University of Geneva and are part of the smart trash team

July 10, 2017 at 4:33 PM
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Some citicisms:

* Evgeny Morozov from The Wall Street Journal commented on this type of technology, criticizing it for incentivizing doing environmentally friendly tasks. Morozov says that the reward system for these actions are not working towards actually improving the environment, but instead selfishly rewarding oneself.

* Observers have noted that the e-trash can possibly be a burden on users who don’t want to take a picture of their trash every time they must throw something away, or type in a username and password.



* Feedback from a 13-year-old Chinese school girl

"Getting paid for throwing away trash would be weird."

"I am doing this (recycling and trash classification) out of my interest."

"People in China have to learn about trash classification. Sometimes they will throw away trash anywhere because they don't know where to put it and they don't want to think for hours."

"School children don't like to listen to teachers. If trash education only comes from the teachers, they wouldn't pay much attention. But if we can play some kind of games in classes, it would be very interesting. My friends would also love to skip class and do cleanings in the school."


July 11, 2017 at 10:34 AM
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  • “Children for Change” Initiative

​1. ​Fun Education

Building trash bins in craft/art classes

Reward Learning: Trash competition

2. Speak Up!

•How do you feel/understand?

•What do you want to do about it?

3. Let's Prototype!

•Using recycled, cheap, and easy-to-find materials.

4. Family Change

•Cultural Feedback (reduce, reuse, recycle)

•Providing facilities (trash classification)

  • Key Metrics of Measurement​

•Children (6-12) participation rate

•No. of smart trash bins built

•No. of smart trash bins adopted at home

•Amount of trash collected and classified

  • External Relations​

1. Partners:

•Elementary schools

•Higher Education Institutes


•Industry (Startups)


2. Supporters



•Crowd funding

3. Opposers

•Traditional school teachers•Sanitation workers?

•Trash burning companies

•Traditional parents

  • The Chinese Scenario

•China has surpassed the United States to become the world's largest trash producer, churning out more than 260 million tons a year. Beijing's 20 million residents generate about 18,000 tons a day, most of which goes to landfills (Los Angeles Times, 2012).

•"Whoever burns garbage the cheapest wins government contracts," says Tao. "Some companies are willing to burn a ton of garbage for less than $4. When it's that cheap, you're definitely not burning it in a clean way." (NPR, 2017)

“If we sorted garbage like many other developed countries do, we‘d cut the amount we need to burn in half,” he says. “If we had a functioning recycling system, we could cut it by another 20 to 30 percent. Less garbage means less toxic emissions.” (NPR, 2017)

  • Analyzing the Chinese Scenario

•What have been done?

•What are still missing?

•What are the difficulties/problems?

•What are we going to do about it? (Framework & Detailed Plans)

July 24, 2017 at 4:25 PM
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1. United Labs

•Week 3 : NYC

•Week 4 : Geneva

•Week 5 : Geneva

•Week 6 : Geneva

2. China

•Week 7 : Beijing

•Week 8 : Shenzhen


  • Week 3 - New York

•Visits (Sims Recycling Education Center, Freshkills Park, UNICEF)

•Meetings (Mentors, NYU/CUSB, eCan Team, Curb Your Litter Team)

•Team Work

•Survey (Public motivation for recycling)

•Evaluation (potential & need of Chinese elementary schools)

•Presentation @UNDP

  • Week 4

•Develop the content of the educational platform about recycling

•Develop partnerships in China

  • Week 5

•Design the physical prototype of the smart trash bin

•Design additional recycling bags for the classrooms

•Take advantage of the SDGs Team for the Design & Technical Development

•Think about the language setting of the educational platform/ smart trash bin

  • Week 6

•Design a tool kit for in-class activity in Beijing

•Prepare negotiations with schools

•Finalize the plan

  • Week 7

•Elementary School Classroom Activity/Experiment

•Children active participation and feedback

•Discussion with teachers

  • Week 8

•Improve our prototype

•Final Presentation of our findings and achievements

July 24, 2017 at 4:52 PM
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What we progressed in New York with the kind help from Nickolas Johnson at CUSP of NYU,  Curb Your Litter, GovLab, Public Lab, 2020 or Bust Founders, and UNICEF.

July 24, 2017 at 5:01 PM
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July 26, 2017 at 12:48 PM
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- Who are these kids? How will they consume the info?

- Teach them compost

- Understand the perspective of the user

- Space for kids to have an impact 

- Make it matter, quantify their efforts 

- Design something that match their situation

July 26, 2017 at 12:59 PM
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July 26, 2017 at 1:00 PM
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eduCANtion is the name for the smart trash bin for educating children.

Based on all existing projects that uses image recognition technologies for trash classification, we have designed three protypes for our smart trash bin.

Our technology consultant, Shrey, has also developed a prototype for massive production to help tackle the trash problem in China.

July 28, 2017 at 4:37 PM
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The new trash bin in local communities automatically weighs the trash and send alerts to pick-up trucks. Citizens can use the points they earn from certain amount of trash to purchase commodities.

Eg. 100g of plastic/metal = 15 points = 15 cents (into bank card)

This example backs up the reason why our smart trash bin, eduCANtion, should focus more on the education part, in that the trash sorting and behavior rewarding system is already being implemented in China.

July 28, 2017 at 4:41 PM
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Feedback on the difficulty of building an actual smart trash bin. 

Alternative: Step-by-step video/presentation for people to understand how the smart trash bin works.

July 31, 2017 at 9:32 AM
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Download the file in the attachment to see all the activities and guidelines that the trash team has designed for schools. We have provided difficulty levels and descriptions for different activities. Schools can also follow the guidelines step by step to become more eco-friendly.

August 8, 2017 at 10:23 AM
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1. What is in the trash of my school?


“Trash is the misplaced resource.” With mounting pressure from the draining resources on earth, it’s time to see trash as our potential treasure. And the first step is to understand what is in the trash.

Common trash on campus include textbooks, pens, pencils, pencil sharpeners, crayons, batteries, chalks, tissues, band aids, food waste, snacks package, cards, ribbons, balloons, plastic bottles, broken umbrellas, cans, paper cups, metals, etc.

The school can conduct a survey on campus to find out what other kind of trash that students are throwing away. It can also ask the students to brainstorm on the means to calculate the amount of trash generated on campus in one day.


2. How can I sort my trash?


Ever been confused by which trash to put in which bin? Here are some general guidelines.

Officially, China has identified 4 categories for household waste:

  • Perishable waste: food waste, such as fruit, vegetables, fish, meat, eggs, cheese, milk, juice, hair, etc.

  • Harmful waste: batteries; lamp tubes; used band aids, medicine and their packaging; waste paint and its packaging; waste film and photographic paper.

  • Recyclables: paper, wood, plastics, metal, knives, balloons, cloth, bottles, cans, glass, waste packaging, including paper-plastic-aluminum composite packaging, e-waste such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops, etc.

  • Non Recyclable : some materials are not recyclables, because the process of recycling them takes too much energy. For ex. Styrofoam


3. Where does my trash go after it’s collected?


Every day, your school trash cans are filled up. Then, a hauler/ a garbage truck comes to empty it. What happens next?

  1. Usually it goes to a transfer station where the trash is dumped. But that’s not its final place, because the garbage is then transferred to a landfill, buried and left to decompose. A process that takes hundreds of years but above all a process that leads to health and environmental issues, such as air and water pollution or poisoning.

  2. It can also go to an incinerator where energy is created through the burning process of the trash. It’s what we call “waste to energy”, but not all the incinerators have this purpose. Trash is transformed into ashes and heat.  

  3. The best place to bring your trash is a recycling center. But in order to do so, the trash has to be sorted before being brought to the recycling center. In the recycling center, trash is turned into new materials.


This is why there is an urgent need to sort the trash correctly in the proper recycling bin and recycle as much as possible. Individuals have to be aware that trash has not disappeared after being thrown away. Every decision we make has an impact, and a good decision, a good action can lead to a huge change.


Links (Videos of life cycle of trash) :


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6xlNyWPpB8&t=13s (Life cycle of a plastic bottle)


4. Why should my school recycle?


They are indispensable for educating as well as promoting trash classification. One of the easiest way to do it is implementing a recycling program in your school.


Hands-on experience will encourage students to make recycling part of their lifestyle, at school and out of school. Through recycling, students come to realise how to make a difference. Recycling program are also beneficial for schools in terms of finances.  Finally, recycling is also a way to strengthen relationships with the local community.


5. How can school benefit from recycling? The importance of recycling


Every sector of society (governments, companies, institutions, communities, individuals) contributes to the garbage problem. Therefore, all of them need to cooperate to solve the problem.

Recycling is not only reducing the amount of trash we throw out.


Recycling benefits :


  • Reduce health issues.

  • Reduce air and water pollution (less pollutants released in the environment)

  • Reduce energy demand (when a aluminum can is recycled, we save 95% of energy)

  • Reduce costs

  • Reduce the size of landfills

  • Conserve natural ressources (water, oil, gaz, etc.)

  • Increase employment (more jobs and stability)

  • Cash benefits (cash in return)

  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions responsible of global warming (2020 app)


6. How can I do more?

Zero waste campaigns : Schools are crucial to helping the country reach a zero waste to landfills.


Implement the school recycling programm


7. What has been made already?


In China, some schools, companies, communities have already started recycling (map) :


Industries/App :



Schools :



August 8, 2017 at 10:28 AM
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With the help of Shrey, we managed to build the scanner for trash image recognition. And we worked on the trash database for programming so that the machine is able to tell people which category does the trash belong to.

The four categories issued by the Chinese government in 2017 are perishable waste, harmful waste, recyclables, and non recyclables.

August 8, 2017 at 10:30 AM
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乐高教学WeDo 2.0实验8 – 废品分类回收

Lego Teaching – WeDo 2.0, Experiment 8 – Trash Classification & Recycling


Time: Aug 17, 2017 (Thursday)

Aim: Trash education & Hands-on classification experience

Age Group: 6-9

No. of students: 12


  • 融合方案:将更明确的垃圾分类与回收内容纳入实验过程

  • Integrating Plan: Add more explicit contents about trash + recycling into the experiment

  1. 定位:在运用物理特性(形状、尺寸)设计分类设备之外,引导学生按照2017年国务院新颁布的垃圾分类标准来设计分类设备。

Aim: Besides using the physical attribution of the materials to design trash classification trucks, teachers can guide the students to sort trash based on the 2017 State Council Statement on trash classification standards.

  1. 《小学科学课程标准》课程链接:添加“三、地球与宇宙科学领域”中的“15. 地球是人类生存的家园”。

Link to Compulsory Education Standard of Science Curriculum: Add Section 15 “Earth is the home of human being” in the Chapter of “Earth and Universe Science”.

  1. 实验计划:

Experiment Plan

  1. 探究阶段:

A. Exploring Stage

(?) 介绍视频:4. 除了利用材料的物理性质分类外,可以运用图像识别工具、垃圾分类数据库和编程工具,来设计智能垃圾分类系统,把垃圾准确地放入四个类别中:厨余垃圾、有害垃圾、可回收物和不可回收物。

(?) Introduction Video: 4. Besides the shape/size of the trash, there are better and more intelligent ways to sort trash. For example, using image recognition tools, trash database, and programming tools, students can design smart trash classification systems. And the four categories in China are perishable waste, harmful waste, recyclables, and non-recyclables.


Group discussion question: What is the common trash in your home? Which category does it belong to?


  1. 创造阶段

B. Creation Stage

- 给予学生充足的时间,设计可以分类两种或多种垃圾的方案,如:干湿垃圾、有害/无害垃圾、可回收物/不可回收物、可回收物中更具体的分类,如塑料、纸张、易拉罐等。Give students enough time to design two or more trash classification plans. For example, wet/dry, harmful/not harmful, recyclables/non-recyclables, more specific categories in the recyclables like PET, paper, cans, etc.

- 学生将不同的分类垃圾桶设计成不同的形状或颜色。

- Students can design different trash bins using different shapes or colors.

- 学生制作写有不同垃圾的小纸片,开展小游戏(如:把学生分为三组,把自己想到的垃圾种类写在小纸片上,每组互换纸片,把纸片放入不同的分类垃圾桶里,根据准确率选出获胜小组,可以获得小奖品)。

- Students put down the names of trash on small pieces of papers. Students can be divided into three groups. And they can exchange the names of trash and put the trash into different bins. Depending on the accuracy rate, the winning group can get small awards.

- 搭建一辆可以分类物品的卡车,并为其编写程序,学生利用分类垃圾桶的颜色或形状分类。

- Build a pickup truck. Do the coding for it. And pick up the trash from different bins.


Note: What is important is that students learn the reason and importance of trash classification. And they can learn how to sort trash with hands-on experiments.


  1. 深层创造阶段

C. In-depth Creation Stage


Brainstorm 1: How to use image recognition, trash database, and programming tools to design smart trash classification systems. (If we have help from high school students)


Brainstorm 2: How to turn trash into treasure. For example, using lego and plastic to create toy planes and toy cars.


  1. 分享阶段

D. Sharing Stage


Making a video: Every child can speak in front of the camera about: (1) Why is it important to sort and recycle trash? (2) Do you want to add trash classification and recycling into your school’s curriculum? And why?

August 8, 2017 at 10:33 AM
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We had a video session with Emma from Life Long Learning Lab at Tsinghua University this Friday. And she agreed to be our mentor :)

We get the idea of doing a peittion for the Chinese government about trash classification and recycling education thanks to her :)

August 8, 2017 at 10:37 AM
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Design Files
September 4, 2017 at 6:04 AM
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On the last day of the iSDG Assembly, our team presented the project to Shenzhen citizens. 

September 21, 2017 at 9:02 AM
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September 21, 2017 at 9:16 AM
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September 21, 2017 at 9:24 AM
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Trash Education using Scratch : children design their own game in teams. 

September 21, 2017 at 9:31 AM
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September 21, 2017 at 9:36 AM
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