Overflowing green recycling bins filled with paper, plastic and other discarded materials line our University of Miami campus sidewalks. Although some of the items in the bins will indeed be repurposed, a majority will still end up in landfills or oceans.
Taking initiative to stop the endless pollution cycle, new student-run startup “Cycle” is revolutionizing the way students, faculty and guests recycle on campus. The company’s vision is to “reshape the way recyclables are disposed of in order to create a more sustainable future for our planet.”
So, what does a sustainable future look like? Why is it necessary?
The University of Miami currently practices single-stream recycling, which allows students to dispose of recyclable items in green bins. While perhaps convenient, single-stream recycling results in high levels of contamination. This occurs when soiled or non-recyclable items are mixed with true recyclables. Examples of contaminated items include used takeout trays, greasy pizza boxes and pretty much any container that still has food in it. Non-recyclable plastic, such as bags or drinking cups, are also considered contaminated. To avoid contamination, the university must pay extra fees for those goods to find their way into the right recycling stream.
Searching for a solution, UM sophomore Anwar Khan and the Cycle team are working with University officials to launch a new recycling system on campus. As of Feb. 3, students can now discard their used water bottles and recyclable plastics in Cycle reverse vending machines – which are programmed to detect and discard contaminated material. The machine is programmed to a free “Cycle” app that allows users to receive compensation in the form of “cycle points” for items they recycle. // While the hardware-software pairing seems elaborate, utilizing its services is not. Once students download the free app, using the Cycle system is a simple three-step process:
- Place recyclable item in the machine
- Use the app to scan a barcode that will pop up on the machine’s monitor
- Watch your Cycle Points add up in the app and donate them to a worthy cause.
Khan and his team have spent over a year fine tuning the system, which they hope will take off quickly. While the first machine will be unveiled at the Herbert Business School, Cycle plans to deploy nine more machines across campus throughout the upcoming year. Eventually, the Cycle model could replace traditional recycling programs on campus, operating as a subscription service paid for by the University to handle its recycling needs. Such a model could be scalable, having the potential to expand to other campuses and similar institutions.
Although there are big plans for the future, Khan is focused on the initial launch right now. He believes the business school’s dedication to sustainability, illustrated by their new Master in Sustainable Business Program, makes it the perfect location for the first machine. He is also eager to work with the Herbert Business School because of its deans and advisors, as well as many individuals and investors in the community, have been instrumental in supporting the growth of his company.
Just over a year ago Cycle was just an idea that came to Khan as he threw away a plastic water bottle in the freshman dorms and thought to himself, “this isn’t great.”
Khan was a member of the University of Miami’s TAMID program, which at the time was looking for a new start-up idea. He pitched his high-tech plan to the organization, which is a local chapter of a nationwide consulting group for college students that supports entrepreneurship and development of business skills. The idea took off, and Khan began building a team and travelling the country talking to investors and competing in business pitch competitions similar to “Shark Tank.”
The Cycle team, which is now made up of six University of Miami students, has achieved success in these competitions and garnered enough capital to turn their plan into reality. According to Khan, one highlight of his travels for Cycle was taking part in the Zero Waste East Summit in New Jersey, a new convention that focuses on bringing together businesspeople, NGOs, investors and climate and policy experts to further the discussion on sustainable business. His team won the University of Miami Business Plan Competition, the TAMID Tank Miami and Miami Founder’s Institute Competition. Along the way Khan has continuously refined his business model. He credits his team’s professionalism for the success they’ve achieved thus far.
While Khan is the CEO and founder of Cycle, the business also functions thanks to the efforts of CFO and co-founder Noah Barrows, Head of Strategy and co-founder Colin Hively, COO and co-founder Conor Pohl, CTO Harrison Mount, and VP of Marketing and Social Media Julie Young. Together, the team hopes their company will help the University to “utilize recycling to build a better future.”
For Cycle, a huge part of this future involves giving back. To that end, “cycle points” students earn through the app can’t simply be deposited at the moment, but will be converted into cash that is donated to charity. Although Cycle has its own charitable cause – the construction of a school in rural India – customers can select a charity to donate to.
This project is personal for Khan, as a trip to his family’s village as a child inspired him to pledge some of his future earnings to improving education for his peers in India. He looks at the relationship between the causes of sustainability and scholarship as “turning recyclables into education.”
Thus far, the University of Miami’s administration has been supportive of Cycle’s goal of turning recyclables into funding for education, or at the very least keeping them out of landfills. Khan’s business aims to solve a serious and well-documented issue here on campus. A successful launch could usher in a new, innovative era of sustainability for the University of Miami.
To see Cycle in action, students can stop by the business school and learn more about the new brand at https://www.cycletechnology.com and university-wide sustainability efforts at https://greenu.miami.edu.
words_kylea henseler photo_Cycle team