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Now all RecycleSmart needs to do is persuade customers and waste management companies that it makes business and environmental sense to let the content level of their bins – and not a preset schedule – dictate when their waste should be picked up, says Colin Bell.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Recyclesmart Solutions is one of the four semi-finalists in The Globe and Mail's Small Business Challenge Contest. The 2012 contest drew more than 1,000 entries, and a panel of 9 judges selected the semi-finalists. The winner of the $100,000 business grant will be announced in September. The other three semi-finalists are Forerunner Research Inc., Livestock Water Recyling Inc. and Northern Canadian Supplies Ltd. To view photos and a multimedia presentation of the four, go to tgam.ca/smallbusiness.

Most companies recycle because they know it's good for the environment. But here's something they may not know: When their recycling bins are picked up, chances are they aren't full. And that means their waste management provider's trucks are driving around and burning fuel while carrying part-empty bins.

Kind of contradicts the purpose of recycling, doesn't it?

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"The way waste and recycling management works right now is trucks come on a schedule and it doesn't matter if the bins are empty or full – they're going to be picked up," says Colin Bell, managing partner and co-founder of RecycleSmart Solutions Inc., a five-year-old Vancouver business that offers companies in Canada and the United States services to help them go green.

"Not only is this inefficient from an energy and environmental perspective, it's also not very cost-efficient for companies that are paying to get their half-empty bins picked up," Mr. Bell says.

To address these inefficiencies, RecycleSmart developed technology that uses ultrasonic sensors to gauge the content level of a waste or recycling bin. The sensors "ping" the bin with sound waves every hour and send signals to a cellular modem.

"When the bin is 85 per cent full, the cell modem 'calls' for pickup," explains Mr. Bell, who started his company in 2007 with his wife, Jaclyn McPhadden.

RecycleSmart – which changed its name recently from Keystone Waste and also took on a third partner, Graeme Dobinson – now employs six full-time workers and five contractors. Revenue over the past three years has grown dramatically, to $500,000 from $76,000.

RecycleSmart has been testing its technology for two years, working initially with a startup in Ireland before switching to a Finnish tech firm. Test results show that using the sensors can reduce waste and recycling costs by an average of 25 per cent, Mr. Bell says.

What the company needs

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Now all RecycleSmart needs to do is persuade customers and waste management companies that it makes business and environmental sense to let the content level of their bins – and not a preset schedule – dictate when their waste should be picked up.

Mr. Bell says waste-management providers have been cool to RecycleSmart's idea because switching to pickup on demand will cut revenue. But that's only in the short term, he says; reduced pickups from existing customers will free up space on their trucks and allow them to service more customers.

To make a case for its potentially disruptive technology, RecycleSmart wants to roll out 100 bins in North America and run a pilot project for six months. The project will require a significant capital investment; each sensor costs between $250 and $300.

"We want to show our clients that this works," Mr. Bell says. "It's pretty new, so the challenge is convincing people that this technology can really make waste management more efficient and dynamic."

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