It’s not easy to get garbage right in Verona. First, you have to find the brochure that the town mailed you way back when. Then you need to figure out whether you’re a north side or a south side pickup. Then you’ve got to decipher obscure terms like “commingled materials”. And if you manage to do all that, you still need to remember to get the cans and containers to the curb before the big yellow truck pulls away.
Tom Cherry feels your pain. He was on the road to a business meeting in Massachusetts a few months back when he realized that he’d forgotten to put the junk mail out for recycling. He thought about calling home, but there was no one home that day to take care of it. So Cherry did the next best thing: He called a tech friend from the car and asked if he could help build a garbage reminder system. As he drove north, Cherry put in calls to two other tech friends and, before he had even reached the parking lot in Massachusetts, he had the basic bones for a new phone app called, appropriately enough, Remyndr.
Remyndr takes the guess work out of garbage. Download the free app to your smartphone (there’s an Android and an iPhone version) and type in your home address. Remyndr instantly determines whether that’s a north or south address for garbage purposes and connects to the right pickup schedule. Your phone will then automatically deliver alerts the night before each pickup for your address. If you get one for “bulk waste” or “white goods” and don’t have a clue what that means, you can simply tap on the term to bring up a simple definition. And if you’ve got a container of antifreeze in the garage and don’t know how to dispose of it safely, you can look up the rules through Remyndr.
“It helps absent-minded people like me to remember to take the right bin to the end of the drive,” says Cherry, with an accent that signals his birthplace as England and not New Jersey.
Remyndr could also help Verona to earn more for its recyclables and avoid penalties for solid waste disposal. Once upon a time, recycling companies would take pretty much anything dumped in their bins and pay a decent rate for them. But commodity prices for recyclables have fallen and the Chinese, who took the bulk of what was recycled in America, are no longer taking junk. To get top dollar now, Verona–and other towns–need to turn in higher quality recyclables. “The right info at the right time is key,” says Cherry.
That’s also why the definition of “trash” on Remyndr contains a reminder that there should be no recyclables, construction debris, yard waste or cardboard in the can. Cardboard can quickly fill a garbage truck and Verona can be fined for dumping it.
The phone app can do other things that are hard for government too, like alert all residents on a particular route when their pickup is being suspended by a holiday or storm, and take the complaint when a pickup is missed.
Cherry, a serial entrepreneur with two previous companies to his credit, is now turning Remyndr into a business beyond Verona. It’s already being used in three towns in Massachusetts and Cherry will be an exhibitor at the New Jersey State League of Municipalities Conference in Atlantic City in November. While the app is free to residents, Cherry is charging a nominal fee to towns: Verona is paying him just $10 a day, which Cherry believes it will more than recoup from increased recycling revenue. (Remyndr operates independently of a town’s IT system and doesn’t store any personal information on its users.) When enough residents of a town sign up for Remyndr, a town might also be able to forego the cost of printing and mailing its garbage brochure.
Because he must build a new database for each town he adds to Remyndr, Cherry acknowledges that his first year with a town won’t be a money-maker. “Year two starts to make sense,” he says. Cherry, a Verona resident since 2002 and a member of the Sustainable Verona team, is also looking into partnerships with recycling companies, haulers and garbage can makers. “They all,” says, “have a vested interest in making garbage better.”
Remyndr is free. You can download it from the Apple app store or Google Play.