How many times have you stood in front of your recycling bin, bleary eyed and coffee-deprived, and wondered if what you have in your hand is considered hard or soft plastic, or if your container is biodegradable or not, or do scraps of meat really go into the food bin?

What if a machine could stop you from throwing your waste into the wrong recycling bin?

Not long ago, the plastic crisis gripped the world, instigated by a sudden change of policy in China to stop taking the rest of the world’s recycling. The world’s rubbish kept on piling up of course, with nowhere to go. The upstream influence was immediate, and we were left with three options:

  1. Send our sorted recyclables to landfills — making landfills even larger, or
  2. Reduce our plastic intake altogether, which requires long-term systematic and behavioural change; or
  3. Getting better at recycling, to reduce the recycling contamination, so that waste is easier and cheaper to process and accepted by more facilities.

Whilst the rest of us voiced our frustrations and blamed our leaders, eleven-year-old Melburnian Saskia Rogers put her thinking cap on and found a solution: if contamination rates were a big part of the problem, and it was hard to sort rubbish once it was in the bin, why not sort it before it enters the bin?

Saskia named her invention the ‘Bot Bin’, and it could be one of many tools we use to improve waste management in Australia and abroad. I first met Saskia right around International Women’s Day, and was so impressed with her efforts to create change for the better, that I wanted to share her story. As the eldest of four sisters, I know that young girls and women can be incredibly capable, strong-headed and innovative thinkers.

The Bot Bin takes human error out of waste sorting. We’re all guilty of ‘wish-cycling’ — that is, putting something in the recycling bin in the hope that it is recyclable. What we’re really doing though, is contaminating our recycling stream, which leads to entire batches of recyclables being sent to landfills.

The Bot Bin is a filter between you and the bins: you place your rubbish into it and the machine decides where it goes. This would be particularly useful in public and shared places like schools, shopping centres and workplaces to improve waste sorting — a measure that many organisations use for their sustainability performance metrics. In some controlled environments, products that inevitably would become the bulk of the waste stream (like packaging in a food court) could be barcoded at the point of sale to make waste sorting automatic.

Saskia Rogers

"We need to think differently and get into the habit of making a different choice, and the Bot Bin will help that process." — Saskia Rogers

Sometimes it takes a fresh perspective to reimagine a world where things are done better. Whilst it might be a while before a Bot Bin is up and running in your community, it just goes to show that with the right perspective and incentives, the solutions are there for the imagining! In our meeting, I taught Saskia a new word for what she was: an entrepreneur. Anyone can have ideas, but it takes guts and a set of strong principles to take the next step and work to turn those ideas into a change.

Saskia Rogers

Saskia has some advice for our leaders: "Listen to our generation, act fast with easy solutions that work in real life. We don’t have time to waste!" 

Empowering women leads to reduced emissions and is a cause South Pole works towards through a number of our climate action projects. Household cookstove projects and water filter projects dramatically reduce the amount of time women and girls spend collecting firewood and water, and cooking over open fires, leading to chronic respiratory health problems and taking time away from studies. Many of our conservation projects also employ women in meaningful work. Within South Pole, we are proud of our gender balanced workforce, with 51% women - achieved not by targeted recruitment but by simply hiring the best candidates for the job.

To learn more about the Bot Bin idea or reach out to Saskia, visit the Bot Bin website

To support projects that empower women and contribute to Sustainable Development Goal 5 - Gender Equality, reach out to and one of our friendly representatives in your region will get back to you.