Tampa Trash and Recycling, as a part of the city’s Spring it Forward campaign in March, showed residents that anything from school supplies to ceramic cups and from branches to corrugated boxes could be disposed of or recycled by various organizations and businesses throughout the city.
“It’s an evolving database,” explained Edgar Castro Tello, recycling specialist at the Department of Solid Waste and Environmental Program Management for the city. “As we get suggestions or find organizations that want to be added to the database, we do that … like the humane society, for example. They’re always accepting rags, like old T-shirts that may not be suitable for donation but that could be used for the pets that are at the humane society. There’s a little need for everything, and we’re finding out about it little by little.”
The app took nearly a year to develop because the city kept collecting locations to add, and the staff is far from finished.
“It was a baseline idea of ‘where can you take items that you want to get rid of in the moment?’” Castro Tello said. “Something you no longer want in your possession, you no longer want it to be in your house, but where can you take it? Sometimes people don’t want to wait. They don’t want it to linger.”
Items such as plastic bags have many recycling locations. The city keeps a spreadsheet of stores that accept those and other recyclable items like batteries, locations that accept them but aren’t promoting it, and locations that are at capacity and need to have their recycling bins temporarily removed.
ReCollect Waste Solutions created the app, which cost the city just $17,000 for a three-year contract – or about $5,600 per year. A Tampa city employee then has access to edit the app and review search history.
“In that process, the residents help us know what the need is. What are people searching for a lot? They might be looking to get rid of an extra microwave, and that lets us know we need to see if there’s an organization that might take a microwave,” Castro Tello said. “Hopefully, every year we can find a new place for things that people are trying to get rid of.”
To avoid dumping or simply throwing things away, the city wanted to create a solution that brought awareness to the potential of a second life for items residents no longer wanted to keep.
“I think it’s a good reminder for people that reusing is always a better option than just throwing it away,” Castro Tello said.
Castro Tello noted that recently the city began to see a larger amount of generated waste – specifically cardboard waste – to the tune of a 22% increase in 2021.
The app was promoted in tandem with the Spring It Forward campaign. There were 600 downloads of the app during that month, although usually it ranges from 60 to 300 downloads.
The value of the app changes seasonally as groups develop individual needs.
“One of the things we tell people during the holidays is, if you have Christmas lights that don’t work, take them to a scrap metal recycler. They will get recycled. Or, if they work but you just want to get rid of them, there are plenty of locations during the holidays that will accept them. We’ve been trying to get into that rhythm of anticipating what is needed during specific times of the year.”
The app also helps the city’s solid waste and environmental division send educational materials to specific neighborhoods based on what’s commonly searched for in the area. If the city does a curbside audit for its recycling pickup program, it can further curate the materials.
In Tampa, around 40% of single-family homes have a recycling cart but some use it for more than just recycling.
“That’s an added bonus of the app,” he said. “We’re getting people to think about their waste a little bit. Any moment that we can get our residents to think about their waste and reassess what they’re doing when they throw it away is always a win.” More information and a web-based form of the app can be found at www.tampa.gov/recycle.