Clean as a Greenbean: Boston campuses engage in recycling competitions

Shanker Sahai, founder and CEO of Greenbean Recycle.

Like many modern Americans, Shanker Sahai is on board with recycling, but in his opinion, there is a major hurdle when it comes to getting people to do it: lethargy.

“Humans are lazy, but they’re curious, and very social. I wanted to let people know that just one bottle can make a difference,” said Sahai, founder and CEO of Greenbean Recycle in Somerville.

The company planted its first recycling machine at MIT in August 2011. Since then, Greenbean machines have popped up at Tufts, Brandeis, and as of last month, Harvard and Northeastern, revolutionizing recycling in a way that makes it more Millennial Generation-friendly, and offering what Sahai calls “instant data for instant gratification.”

“The folks who use social media and smart phones – those are the people who will change the future. We wanted to use the same technology to motivate the next generation of recyclers,” Sahai said.

The high-tech, paperless machines let students use a touch screen to enter their phone number when they’re dropping off cans and bottles. A bar-code reader counts the number of containers, and then uploads the data on the Greanbean website. Users can get instant, real time recycling statistics, prizes for frequent recycling, and of course, the 5 cent refund, which is sent directly to a PayPal account, student ID cards, or charity.

And while Sahai feels that people in a young demographic seem interested in recycling, he also believes they may need a little more incentive than the simple thrill of doing a green good deed, so he added a competitive aspect -  recyclers can track their progress online, and engage in competitions with fellow students.

Sahai’s hope is to reach more recyclers by expanding to airports, sporting arenas, and the MBTA.

“There is a huge recycling trend because the younger generation is making a more conscious effort. It is a great movement; we didn’t have that ten years ago.”


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