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Telling the Story of Recycling

Queens junior Alma Beciragic (pronounced Bet-chee-ra-geech) will make wish you were more diligent about recycling.  After all, the Croatian-born Charlottean is researching the frequency with which each green recycling bin "tips" into a city truck. 

However, fret not; at least not yet.  Using Charlotte's Solid Waste Management data to determine recycling compliance in certain neighborhoods was the environmental science major's idea.  Charlotte put radio frequency identification (RFID) tags in the 90-gallon green bins it rolled out in 2010 simply to keep tabs on the city's investment.  Yet, Alma's idea was to "take advantage" of the available data to determine if recycling frequency correlated with age or income demographics she gained from the UNCC Urban Institute. 

That first phase of research was inconclusive, so she switched to "is there something we can do about this?"  Using grant funding from the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, she sent postcards detailing what to recycle and what it would do for the environment to three different neighborhoods.  Just this month she received the data back to analyze the efficacy of the education campaign.  For her Capstone next year, she hopes to analyze the recycling points and tie them to certain streets, to see if people surrounded by trees or other greenery are more inclined to recycle.

Using the data effectively will one day enable Charlotte, and cities like it, to target areas to influence behavior.  She notes, for instance, that Ohio is another place only using its RFID for inventory control.  That's "taking the data set for granted," she said.  "That almost makes it boring."

Alma's interest in digging into the story behind the statistical data started when she took her first Geographic Information Systems (GIS) class with Dr. Reed Perkins. He told the class, "maps tell a story," and it's the GIS students' job to interpret that story. "He put me in my element," she said.  "I am a very, very visual learner...It's literally data that you can see."

Professor Steve Cox anticipates the study's results could help reduce landfill volume and save product manufacturing energy. "Alma sees the whole problem and identifies key elements to investigate," her research advisor said.  "She has an excellent ability to turn raw data into meaningful information."

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