Canary Wharf Group launches AI-based app to help spur plastics action

London-based property giant Canary Wharf Group (CWG) has launched a smartphone app which uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning to encourage visitors to its estate to minimise their plastic waste footprint.

Canary Wharf Group launches AI-based app to help spur plastics action

(L-R) Veris's head of strategy and business development Nick Green

Developed by tech startup HELPFUL, the behaviour change app uses smartphone cameras to scan plastic water bottles and disposable coffee cups before telling the user where the nearest recycling bin for the item is. Once they have reached the recycling bin, customers can log the fact they have deposited the cup or bottle and receive a virtual ‘point’ as a reward.

Points collected via the app can be spent on a variety of products which aim to encourage plastic reduction via reuse, such as refillable aluminium water bottles, cotton tote bags and reusable coffee cups. Further points can be collected by logging the reuse of such items.

The app currently recognises more than 40 bottled water brands, including Buxton, Evian and Volvic, and coffee cups for 33 chains, such as Starbucks and Costa Coffee. Coca-Coca, Fanta, 7up, Pepsi and Sprite are set to be added to its repertoire within the coming months.

At a briefing event this morning (10 January), CWG announced that it will encourage all staff and regular visitors to its Tower Hamlets estate to download the app, as part of its ambition to become the world’s first plastic-free commercial centre.

“Anything to do with recycling, reuse and sustainable behaviour change more widely must come naturally to people and be accessible, or it won’t have any impact,” CWG’s head of sustainability Martin Gettings said.

“Communication and education are key, and this app is a very high-tech way of communicating with our population and visitors. It is a real, live example of how you can put recycling and reuse into people’s day-to-day lives and get a community working together to change behaviours.”

To support the app, CWG has placed scannable codes on all recycling bins located within its namesake development, which has a working population of around 120,000 people. 

The developer has also installed 15 water refill stations across its retail and commercial spaces since June 2018 in a bid to encourage visitors to use refillable vessels rather than buying single-use drinks bottles. These fountains have collectively been used more than 35,000 times to date.

A plastic-free future

CWG has positioned itself as a leading player in the UK business community’s ongoing plastic phase-out in recent months, having included several plastics-related pledges in its new ‘Making Sustainability Real’ strategy last June.

Under its commitment to become a plastic-free estate, companies using CWG’s 37 office buildings and 300 shops, cafés, bars and restaurants have been asked to remove at least three single-use plastics products each, replacing them with more sustainable alternatives. Where possible, businesses are being encouraged to eliminate all uses of single-use plastics.

Aside from securing local business support, CWG is also developing a series of community events to help raise awareness of the UK’s plastic pollution problem. The first of these events was its ‘Breaking The Plastics Habit’ conference, which included a panel discussion featuring sustainability and packaging experts from the likes of Sky, Waitrose and Iceland.

The firm has additionally launched a steering panel to accelerate progress in eliminating single-use plastics.

Progress towards the estate’s plastic-free status is being tracked by marine conservation charity Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), which is aiming to create 125 plastic-free communities worldwide by 2020. More than 400 villages, towns and cities have committed to achieve plastic-free status with support from SAS, with CWG being the first commercial estate to have made the pledge.

Speaking at the launch of the HELPFUL app, SAS’s chief executive Hugo Tagholm said: “Before launching our  Plastic Free Community initiative, there was nothing really bringing communities together to take collective action on the plastics issue.

“CWG is the first business district we’ve started working with, and an extremely important part of creating the change we want to see. It is creating the new systems, products and service delivery systems that we need to live a lower-plastic lifestyle, eliminating those plastics that are ending up in our oceans.”

Sarah George

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