Recycling where others can't
Pitch us on your solution
(1) There are approximately 34 million single-family rural homes and another 16 million apartments or condos that all lack access to convenient recycling. Even in communities that do recycle, complex items are typically ignored. (2) At Recyclops we leverage the gig economy and a smart routing app to bring recycling to communities that historically have not been able to successfully implement recycling programs and in expanding what collected in existing programs. Think Uber for recycling. We have successfully done this in 40 cities in 4 states. (3) We bring resources back to where they can be used again. An oft-overlooked, but extremely important, part of a circular economy is logistics. If we can't get products back to processors and manufactures then the economy remains linear. Globally there are countless locations which lack the infrastructure for recycling collection, especially for complex materials; we are solving that problem.
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What is the problem you are solving?
Recycling isn't accessible to a large portion of the population and even where recycling is accessible complex materials are ignored. Across the US there are approximately 34 million single-family rural homes and another 16 million urban apartments or condos that lack access to convenient and affordable recycling for both basic and complex materials. In the remaining 76 million US homes where recycling is accessible many complex items are not recycled; this includes materials like e-waste, glass, compost, most types plastics, textiles and much more. These problems are NOT unique to the US. Across the world many homes do not have access to recycling and even more lack access to recycle complex materials.
Glass, plastic, and textiles all present significant recycling challenges. According to the EPA, in 2015, these three materials had the worst recycling rates in the US with 94.71 percent or food waste, 90.90 percent of plastics, and 84.72 percent of textiles being landfilled. These materials are not hard to recycle. There are firms throughout the country and world looking for these materials, but the vast majority of homes and businesses simply do not have access to convenient and affordable recycling options thus keeping the economy linear.
Who are you serving?
34 million single-family rural homes and another 16 million urban apartments or condos that lack access to convenient and affordable recycling for both basic and complex materials. The remaining 76 million US homes lack access to recycling for complex materials. According to Pew Research 75% of Americans are "particularly concerned" about the environment. People care. Please want to do the right thing. The challenge is these same people do not have access to recycling (especially for complex materials).
Recyclops currently operates in 40 communities in Utah, Idaho, Arizona, and Colorado. In these communities we have seen that there's an extremely strong desire to not only recycle, but to recycling as much as possible. They want to recycle ALL of their plastics, their e-waste, their old clothes, their glass, and much more. We keep diligent record of what people do recycle and what they want to be able to recycle and we're constantly working on increasing what materials we can accept, far beyond traditional recycling programs.
By leveraging the gig economy we are able to build a network of drivers who can gather materials from homes and then we aggregate said materials before sending them to the correct processors or remanufactures.
What is your solution?
We use an Uber-style method to facilitate recycling of both basic and complex materials.
Customers sign up to recycle with us and pay $10 a month for basic recycling and $2.50 for each complex stream they add to their service. On an assigned pickup day they place their recycling (customers bag most materials) on their curb or doorstep. Because we use different bags or buckets for different materials its easy for us to accept many material types in single pick up without creating a sorting problem. We then hire local independent contractors to pick up bags and take them to a local drop spot where we aggregate different materials before sending them off to processors. It's as simple as placing different colored bags into different containers at the drop spot.
Our drivers use an Uber-style driver app that includes smart routing and data tracking features. In the future we intend on providing customers with an app where they can request on-demand pickups and sign up to have us recycle additional materials like e-waste or compost etc. This app will also have an impact tracking feature where it tells the customer the impact they're having by recycling. Like Uber, the technology is simple but the impact is immense.
Select only the most relevant.
Where is your solution team headquartered?Orem, UT, USA
Our solution's stage of development:
Select one of the below:
New application of an existing technology
Describe what makes your solution innovative.
We are applying an existing solution to an oft-over looked problem. There a many Uber-style companies out there, but almost all of them are handling delivery problems. We are handling a pickup problem and applying it directly to recycling the circular economy. In doing so we are able to pick up many different steams of recycling at once (including complex recyclables) and to serve both markets that are traditionally ignored like rural areas and apartments and to serve more typical markets like suburban America.
Describe the core technology that your solution utilizes.
The core technology that we using is a smart driver application. This app allows for smart routing and data tracking. For us this gives us an immense amount of data on what materials are being recycled and how much is being recycled. We are also constantly gathering data for improved routing and we use AI to continually improve routes based on the data.
Another key technology we use is bagging recycling instead of using bins. Bags enable us to use independent contractors open vehicles, like pickup trucks, while limiting spillage and also keeping costs low. Our semi-trasparent bags also give us easier views of what is being recycled so that we can quickly identify contaminants.
Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:
Why do you expect your solution to address the problem?
We can see it working today. We currently operate in 40 cities in 4 states and have seen that this truly meets and need and can we scale effectively. The problem we're solving is accessibility and our solution is to use a proven transportation method to solve that problem. Thousands of homes can now recycle both basic and complex materials thanks for our efforts.
Select the key characteristics of the population your solution serves.
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people are you currently serving with your solution? How many will you be serving in one year? How about in five years?
We currently serve approximately 4500 people and by year end we'll be serving at least 21000. In 5 years we intend on serving 3 million people in approximately 1500 cities and towns. For us that means that more than 1 million homes will subscribe to our service (the average US household has nearly 2.6 people). These subscribers will pay at least $10 a month and have access to recycling that they've never had before. Some homes will have access to basic recycling for the first time while other will have access to recycling for complex materials.
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
Our goal in the next year is to expand to 10 states and nail down all aspects of scaling so that in 5 years we can reach at least 1 million homes and 3 million people. In doing so we'll recycle 260,000+ tons annually. This will include both basic items like paper, cardboard, #1 & #2 plastics, and metals as well as complex items like food waste, appliances, #3-7 plastics, cartons, e-waste and more. This will also have a large impact on local jobs in the cities we serve. Currently we provide jobs for 6 "hard-to-employ" workers. These are individuals who would have a hard time finding other employment either due to a disability or to past life challenges. At this rate in 5 years 4000 hard-to-employ workers will be working with Recyclops. This does not include the thousands of other more typical workers with will find work with us.
What are the barriers that currently exist for you to accomplish your goals for the next year and for the next five years?
Financial. One of our biggest barrier is financial. Growing takes money are money is limited. Right now the market is wide open we just need to be able to reach it.
Geographic. Another big challenge for us is the geographic spread of our target market. Not only is the market national (and global) but a large portion of our target market is rural which makes transportation, logistics, and management very challenging.
Cultural. The very nature of what we're doing is serving people with solutions they've never been exposed to before. There will inevitably be low hanging fruit and early adopters, but for the rest of our customers we need to build a culture of recycling often from nothing.
Labor. Our model is a two-sided marketplace where we connect recyclers with drivers. Naturally there are more people who want to recycle than want to drive. This means that the larger we grow in an area the harder it is to find dependable contractors. If we can't find dependable contractors our whole model falls apart. To date we've been able to overcome this challenge but it has without a doubt been a large challenge at times.
How are you planning to overcome these barriers?
Financial. We have raised and intend on continuing to raise venture capital money to support our growth. In order to do so we need to continue to meet and exceed expectations and to move quickly and effectively.
Geographic. To solve this challenge we need solid technology to help us manage routes and problems (both with customers and with drivers).
Cultural. Recycling is something that many people are passionate about. Right now we're overcoming the challenge in two ways (1) by working with recycling advocates to evangelize for us, and (2) by working with school to build a culture from the ground up.
Labor. One again this challenge will largely be overcome by technology. I also believe that like Uber we will need to put significant money back into finding drivers and thus raising venture capital will help with this as we build a strong base of drivers.
Select an option below:
If you selected Other, please explain here.
How many people work on your solution team?
5 full time
2 part time
For how many years have you been working on your solution?
Why are you and your team best-placed to deliver this solution?
We have been in this space for 5 years and have a deep understanding of the problems faced. Our CEO is an award winning and published recycler and our COO has 30 years of operational experience including scaling ventures.
Ryan (CEO) has been featured as a recycling expert in WasteDive, Waste360, FastCompany, and many other publications. Ryan has also successfully build and sold a cardboard recycling business. These experiences have put Ryan in a place where he understands recycling as a business and how to find success.
Mike (COO) knows how to build a business. In Mike's last two startups they were able to go from $1MM in annual revenue to $100MM in just 3 short years. One of these companies was a water bottle facility giving Mike a unique understanding of the full recycling supply chain.
We believe in hiring A+ players to serve in key rolls. If someone is not an A+ player then Recyclops is not the place for them. As we continue to grow and expand we intend on hiring an industry leading CTO and CFO among other key rolls.
With what organizations are you currently partnering, if any? How are you working with them?
We work with many local cities and have won several contracts (although we do not need a government contract to operate in an area). When we partner with a city in any capacity our intent is for the city to essentially become our local marketing arm.
ASU. We have participated in ASU's RISN incubator in the last two cohorts. ASU has proven to a valuable partner in connecting us with top recyclers and industry leaders both in Arizona and throughout the country.
BYU. For the last 4 semesters we have had a group of on-campus interns working on a variety of projects for us. This is an unpaid internship with heavy supervision from BYU's Ballard Center.
Renewlogy. Renewlogy is our current partner for all of the hard-to-recycle plastics that we accept. Renewlogy is pyrololis plant manufacturing company (founded and run by an Sloan MBA alum woot woot)
Momentum Recycling. Momentum is a glass recycler in Utah and Colorado and our partner for all of the glass we receive in the Rocky Mountain area.
Wasatch Resource Recovery. WRR is our partner for food waste in the Rocky Mountain area. They run a newly build anaerobic digester in North Salt Lake, UT.
What is your business model?
Key customers and beneficiaries: People without access to recycling. This includes both rural populations and apartment dwellers, who typically have no convenient and affordable recycling options, as well as suburban and urban home dwellers who don't have access to recycle complex items.
Service you provide: We provide curbside/doorstep pickup starting at $10/month
How we provide this service: We use an Uber-esque model where we hire local independent contractors to pick up bagged and bucketed recyclables. These driver partners use a smart routing and tracking app that helps us decrease contamination and to track what and how much we're recycling.
What is your path to financial sustainability?
We charge customers $10/month for standard recycling and then $2.50 for each additional complex recycling stream that they choose to recycle with us. If someone only wants to recycle complex items with us the price starts at $10. We have already achieved net profitability in 80% of our current markets and use an approach where we pre-launch in an area to acquire customers before actually beginning service. We do not launch in new areas until they are profitable.
Having said that, we intend on growing very rapidly and understand that in order to do so a lot of capital will be required. Because of this have raised, and intend on raising more, venture capital money to propel our business forward more rapidly.
Along the way we also home to be awarded a variety of grants. We have previously won a $100K grant from the State of Utah Department of Economic Development.
Why are you applying to Solve?
Over the past two years we've had the opportunity to participate in Arizona State University's RISN Incubator (an incubator focused on circular economies). This has been a tremendous experience for us. By working with ASU we've gained access to countless mentors, partners, and friends who have helped us get our business to the place it is today. The director of RISN recommended that we look into Solve and as we did we came to the conclusion that Solve, like RISN, would be immensely beneficial to our business.
We are just now preparing to enter the scale phase of our business and as a part of this there are a lot of unknowns. From our past experience we've seen that the best way to overcome to challenges is to work with mentors who are industry experts and with peers who will look at our challenges from a new angle to help a find the right solutions. We see Solve as a major resource to find both peers and expert mentors.
We are going to be seeking funding later this year and as such we're looking to build relationships with potential investors with care about what we're doing. We see Solve as an excellent way to connect and build relationships with these types of investors both through the Solve network and by leveraging the MIT brand to help attract other investors.
What types of connections and partnerships would be most catalytic for your solution?
If you selected Other, please explain here.
With what organizations would you like to partner, and how would you like to partner with them?
We would love to partner with a chemical company like Dow Chemical to help better facilitate hard-to-recycle plastic recycling and new innovative recycling methods that with further the circular economy.
Uber or Lyft as a strategic investor.
Waste Management or Republic Services as a
Amazon as a logistics partner (we specialize in first-mile pickup and we are very interested in using our expertise and driver network to experiment more with last-mile delivery.
Hefty or Glad as a bag manufacturing and branding partner.
Google to improve our routing through AI.
If you would like to apply for the AI Innovations Prize, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution. If you are not already using AI in your solution, explain why it is necessary for your solution to be successful and how you plan to incorporate it.
Smart routing, the logistics of the materials we've aggregated, and tracking and identifying the best ways to bring materials into the circular economy are all challenges we intend on using AI to solve. Winnings for the AI Innovations Prize would be used to advance our AI initiative in routing and enable us to start now on AI initiatives in the logistics of the materials we've aggregated, and in the tracking and identifying the best ways to bring materials into the circular economy. We also feel that MIT could help us find the right people to help us further advance these efforts.
If you would like to apply for the GM Prize on Circular Economy, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution.
The first step toward becoming a zero waste and zero carbon community is reducing your footprint. Our solution helps to both reduce waste and carbon (or pickup method uses 5x carbon than traditional methods during pick up). As continue to grow we want to vertically integrate and bring the handing and recycling of materials in house. This including finding new and creative ways to recycle materials, preferably in a local smaller scale atmosphere. We would use this price to research creative recycle solutions and to expand our efforts in new communities.
If you would like to apply for the Innovation for Women Prize, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution.
Currently 56% of our drivers partners are women. 30% of these women are underprivileged or disabled. Another 30% of these women are working mothers. Inherent in our solution is an opportunity for women to give back, advocate for good, and earn money. We have seen that our women drivers are more reliable and stay with us longer than their male counterparts. Our CEO is the father to two daughters and is extremely passionate about advancing women's rights and making sure that every woman has a voice.
If you would like to apply for the Innospark Ventures Prize, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution. If your solution utilizes data, describe how you will ensure that the data is sourced, maintained, and used ethically and responsibly.
Smart routing, the logistics of the materials we've aggregated, and tracking and identifying the best ways to bring materials into the circular economy are all challenges we intend on using AI to solve. Winnings for the Innospark Ventures Prize would be used to advance our AI initiative in routing and enable us to start now on AI initiatives in the logistics of the materials we've aggregated, but more than anything else this would help us to build a solution where we can track and identify the best ways to bring materials into the circular economy.
We envision a world where a customer can take a picture of old electronics and find the best place for them, whether that be ebay or an electronic recycling or something in between. The ultimate goal of this being to keep items out of landfills and in the circular economy. Using this same technology a customer could take a picture of any item and learn if they can recycle it locally, and if not, how it can still be recycled. There is so much confusion surrounding recycling and this would put the power into the palm of recyclers hands.