Want to know more about recycling in East Devon? Just ‘Ask Alexa . . .’

Trailblazing recycling skill for Amazon Alexa

East Devon District Council is pioneering a new way of helping its residents discover more about their recycling and waste service through the Amazon Alexa.

District households who have an Amazon virtual assistant can now ask Alexa about recycling thousands of household items and seek advice on everything from checking when collections are, reporting missed collections and asking for new recycling containers with the answers being tailored to the residents’ address.

People who want to use this new ‘recycling skill’ must live in the East Devon District Council catchment area and begin their question with the message ‘Alexa, ask East Devon District Council  . . . ‘ followed by the relevant recycling or waste question. You can also download the Amazon Alexa app to your smartphone and ask the same questions.

This latest initiative breaks new ground in the way that the council keeps its residents informed about this important service, and it’s believed the council is the first in the country to use the Amazon Alexa to help its residents recycle more.

Many Alexa’s are found in the kitchen which, according to experts is the best place to be when deciding on how to recycle household goods such as tins, paper, glass and plastic bottles. All you have to do is ask Alexa how to recycle a particular item and it will provide you with a ready answer.

Last month the council won a national ‘best new idea’ award for creating the Alexa recycling skill and for its popular East Devon mobile App which has more than 20,000 subscribers and is the most used citizen app in the country. The accolade was awarded by the national Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee.

For recycling information, the East Devon App can send residents useful reminders ahead of their collections, as well as telling them which collection is due, what can go in each bin and making adjustments for bank holiday collection. It provides a wide range of other features too, from planning applications to councillor information and news about food hygiene rates for local food outlets.

Last year, the council issued more than 1 million customised recycling and waste reminders to residents who asked for them via the App. The award comes just a few weeks after East Devon households were crowned the best recyclers in Devon as they recycled 59% of their waste in 2018/19.

Councillor Geoff Jung, East Devon’s portfolio holder for the environment, said that the council is using every way it can to help its residents recycle more and waste less.

He said:

As more people use devices such as smart phones and Alexa’s, it makes sense that we use digital technology to give our residents as much information, in as many ways that are accessible to them, as possible. We need to use all the innovative methods at our disposal and we hope that the ‘Ask East Devon District Council’ Alexa skill is a good example of such an approach.

This doesn’t mean however that we are ignoring the traditional ways of keeping our residents informed. Far from it! The council will continue to drop leaflets through doors, hold roadshows and community events and make sure every property gets a bin hanger at Christmas to pass on our seasonal collection dates and give advice on how to continue to recycle during the festive period.

Although the district has an excellent recycling success rate, Cllr Jung says there’s no room for complacency.

He added:

Having raised our recycling rate considerably, we recognise that our current challenge is to support our residents to consume less, make lifestyle choices which reduce or avoid waste and encourage re-use of materials before recycling in order to help our district meet the climate change challenge. 

Also remember you can download the Amazon Alexa app to your smartphone and ask the same questions.

For the moment, the Amazon smart speaker is the only system we are working with. The skill is currently not available under Google Home or Apple HomePod. 

The East Devon App, which send reminders about recycling and waste collection days tailored to your own address, is free and is available to download from the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store.