What was the purpose of the Smarter Discards Pilot Study?
The City of Dubuque partnered with IBM Research and other vendors in a research project, called the Smarter Discards Pilot Study, to help improve diversion to beneficial use through our curbside trash and recycling collection service. The information collected through this pilot study will be used in the City’s decision-making related to policies, staffing, and equipment issues related to cost-effective discard (trash/recycling) management and curbside collection.  The goals of the study were to improve and measure trend lines in landfill diversion and curbside recycling to help achieve Dubuque’s sustainability commitments. The study began in April 2013 and ran through April 2014.  For all background materials related to the study, click here.

Who participated in the study?
The study involved two groups of Dubuque's curbside collection customers. 

Aggregate Group:  The City identified two residential collection areas, each with relatively the same number of trash and recycling customers totaling approximately 450 households, to participate in this project.  This group was called “Aggregated Customers” and only the weekly participation and discard weights from the entire route were measured. Weights were not tracked at individual stops. The purpose of the aggregate group was for baseline measurements and what worked to improve diversion to beneficial use.  Click here to view a map of the aggregate group.

Volunteer Group:  In addition, the City recruited 250-400 volunteers among its municipal collection customers (“City Volunteers”). Starting in July, volunteers specifically authorized their collected discard (landfill, recycle and compost) data to be provided to IBM by the City in anonymized form for use in the Smarter Discards portal developed by IBM Research. The community-wide metric information generated by this project, using only anonymous data from volunteer households, was used by the City to begin estimating discard baselines and beneficial use choices. The combined volunteer anonymized data, with each volunteer’s permission, was also shared with the City volunteers so that they could compare and benchmark their personal usage with that of a comparable subgroup of the City volunteer community. IBM developed the tools and made a portal available and helpful to the volunteers to reduce wasting. 

What type of information was collected at my trash/recycling setout?
Each week, City crews recorded whether or not trash and recycling was set out curbside for the aggregate group, as well as weigh each container set out by the households in the volunteer group. NO IDENTIFYING INFORMATION was collected. All residences were assigned a unique ID to anonymously identify their location.  

How was the information transmitted?
RFID (radio-frequency identification) technology was used to transmit the data. City staff installed RFID tags on city-owned containers in the aggregate group for the study. When the trash/recycling truck came by for the weekly collection, technology on each truck read if a container with an RFID tag was emptied. If there was no tag on a container, our staff pushed a button to record each container collected. Each set-out container in the volunteer group was manually weighed.

Who was able to volunteer to participate?
Volunteers for this pilot study were required to have City solid waste collection service and to have agreed to the participation agreement. To access the portal, participants were required to have internet access.

What was the incentive for a volunteer household to participate?
In addition to encouraging an increase in recycling, and a decrease in materials going to the landfill, participating in this study helped the City of Dubuque streamline curbside collection practices and make future budgeting recommendations. Volunteer households were also given the option of an organics diversion kit, which included a one and a half gallon "kitchen-catcher" container for food scraps, a box of compostable kitchen catcher bags, a sheet of five yard debris decals, and one yard debris bag. Households were also able to earn "green points" to be redeemed for awards based on their performance.

Was there any cost to volunteers to participate?

What information could volunteer participants access using the portal?
Beginning in September 2013, the Smarter Discards Portal displayed the frequency of trash/recycling set-out and the weights recorded each week for that volunteer household. Historical data comparing the volunteer household to itself, the volunteer household to others like it, and self-reporting for other diversion methods was available.  There were tips, a chat section, and incentives/awards for high performance achievements. 

Why was collection of data started in July, but the volunteer portal wasn't available until September?
Two months of baseline data were required to begin to work out any bugs and report trends in usage.