Upgrading the Infrastructure

After going out to observe the pickups, our team realized the amount of backbreaking labour that goes into the collection of materials. The bags of recyclables can weigh upwards of one ton, and each one must be weighed in order for the picker to be paid. Watching the workers struggle to lift these giant containers and take hours to record the volumes emphasized just how much easier this job could be with a mechanical solution.

In our first conversation with Gershwin, the CORC correspondent for Blue Sky, he emphasized the impact that a truck-mounted hoist would have in the reduction of physical labour and collection time. Once in Cape Town, our team researched and visited local hoist companies to find a suitable option. We created SolidWorks models to show the proper mountings and how it would function to pick up bags and place them on the truck or trailer. We realized that mobility and proper power application methods would be ideally solved with the installation of a ratchet hoist. This type of hoist would be able to lift as much as a few tons with little work applied. Our team wanted to find the right hoist for Blue Sky’s collection process in order to ease the workload of the workers (Feare, 2000). Proper funding was not available at the time a finalized quote was procured; however, our team compiled a proposal to aid in securing funds for a hoist to begin the new year.

Recycling Blue Sky’s Business Mindset

Financially, Blue Sky relies on CORC in addition to its income from recyclables. These expenditures cover much of the transportation and maintenance cost incurred from the movement of multiple tons of material. Blue Sky’s overarching goal for sustainability is to reduce its reliance on CORC funding and become 100% fiscally independent. In order to create a model of sustainability, it was necessary to research other companies’ business models. From here, our team identified Blue Sky’s current business setup and elaborated on they might maximize their efficiency and draw in more income. This process involved extensive research into successful models of a similar nature that could then be adapted for Blue Sky’s needs. For Blue Sky to increase income and expand, we collaborated on the following projects:

Digitizing Data Collection: Blue Sky Goes Mobile

While watching the Blue Sky employees during pickups, we observed their current paperwork system. Each bag of recyclables is weighed and the mass is jotted down in a notebook. All of these numbers are added together, multiplied by the rate of pay, and painstakingly rewritten in a receipt book. This process involves burdensome calculations that leave room for error. This receipt lists the mass of each material and the amount of each returnable bottle collected. From each of these receipt pages, a daily log of collections is written out in a spreadsheet format. This process, while thorough, could be simplified electronically.


To address this area of opportunity, we met with Chester Kwak of Dimagi, a technology-based company that creates applications and is currently piloting a new programme called CommSell. Our team utilized their software to design a mobile app that could take the place of all the handwritten records as described above. We devised two main forms: one to register a picker’s name, address, and suburb, and the other to document the amount and type of material collected. Another form was also made to log material re-sale at different drop off sites. These forms are used on Android-based phones, are also functional on Java phones. The system automatically uploads the entries into a main database, which then tracks picker progress and shows how much material was collected on a daily basis. After producing this application, our team field-tested it with the Blue Sky drivers and made improvements based on their recommendations.

Branding and Marketing Possibilities

When we arrived at Blue Sky on our first day, we actually did not realize that we were at the facility because there were no signs or logos anywhere. After chatting with our liaisons, we learned that the name Blue Sky Recycling was not well defined in the community and for other businesses. Pickers themselves would sooner connect their livelihood to John, Blue Sky’s manager, and Gershwin, Blue Sky’s CORC representative, than they would to Blue Sky. After a brainstorming session and multiple design efforts, we developed a logo that defined what Blue Sky stood for and would be simple enough to be put on field apparel, online media, and physical advertising.

New Ways To Use Old Materials

One of the ways to increase Blue Sky’s profit margin would be to add value to the materials being recycled. Reprocessing would be a way to do this and our team researched different methods such as glass crushers and balers. These compressing methods would allow Blue Sky to have more storage space and also sell the more finely processed glass at a higher price (Blengini, 2012). We designed mechanisms that would cut the aluminum tops out of cans in order to separate the aluminum from the tin, increasing buy back value. Although these processes are in the conceptual phases, future investments could allow these models to significantly increase Blue Sky’s profit margins.

Making the Books Electronic

In addition to making the pickup data digital, it was important to reformat Blue Sky’s finances into spreadsheets for ease of use. The previous format included monthly reports stating individual expenses and income sources that detailed profits and bank balances as well. Our team created and tested a simplified Excel file for expenditure and income. This format automatically takes income and expenditures and summarizes them neatly, also allowing for data summation over a period of time.

Crossing Communication Barriers: Blue Sky and its Picker Community

John and Gershwin as well as Blue Sky’s employees speak Afrikaans, but many of their pickers are Xhosa speakers. With this language barrier, there is some difficulty communicating what exactly Blue Sky would like their pickers and partners to know. In order to facilitate communication, our team created visually aided brochures and flyers to give to pickers, buyback centres, and businesses and promote general knowledge about the programme and expectations. The flyer for the picker clearly displays rates for all types of materials and a step-by-step process on how pickers should pre-sort their collected recyclables for Blue Sky. We recommend this version in Xhosa and other necessary languages to appeal to all Blue Sky pickers.

Promoting Transportation Flow Via Yard Reorganisation

As we walked around Blue Sky’s collection yard, the enormous bags of sorted material and huge, scattered storage containers did not allow much room for the trucks to manoeuvre around. From experience, we knew that it was an elaborate process for more than one vehicle to be driving in the yard at any given time. John drew us an example of how he would like the yard to look, and we created multiple computerized models to comply with these needs. The setup would be arranged to accommodate a better flow for sorting the materials and to maximize driving space.