What’s the big idea? Calling on innovators to get rid of Phoenix trash

An individual or team can apply to win a contest that will award the winner $20,000. (Photo courtesy of Phoenix Public Works Department)

Data collected on Phoenix garbage trucks will be part of a Cisco Challenge asking people to invent new ways to cut down on trash. (Photo courtesy of Phoenix Public Works Department)

A Phoenix worker drives one of the trucks that is taking in data to help analyze what will lead to less trash by 2050 goal of a more sustainable city. (Photo courtesy of Phoenix Public Works Department)

Phoenix is looking for people who know how to talk trash. As in, get rid of trash.

Those who come up with the right idea will win $20,000 to startup a business aimed at reducing waste in landfills to virtually zero in 2050. About 11 percent of garbage in Phoenix landfills were recyclable and 50 percent were compostable, according to a city-commissioned study in 2014.

The business that brings you cable television and other services is working with Phoenix on a challenge to help get trash out of landfills over the next three decades.

Cox Communications and Cisco Systems, an IT service company, is sponsoring the Cisco Challenge. Here’s how it works:

Caring, creative people wanted

The contest coordinators want applicants with a passion to make a difference in their community. People do not need to have a background in technology but it might help. There have been whispers of developing software that includes an app that can track your local garbage, according to Dominic Papa, chief executive and founder of the Institute of Digital Progress, a contest sponsor. Customers could find out in real time how far away a garbage-truck driver is and how long they have to put bins out by the curb. Other possible ideas include a program that sends a picture of a customer’s garbage to learn how to properly dispose of it.

Grand Canyon University students won a similar competition, Papa said. College students and other millennials often come up with the most innovative designs, he said. Universities often act as idea hubs, generating technology solutions to world issues.

Garbage in, data out

Cisco Systems donated 40 hard-drive routers to the Public Works Department that were attached to garbage trucks and are gathering data from across the city. The routers track drivers’ routes to measure their efficiency as well as track and weigh the amount of waste from every customer’s bin. The data will be given to contestants to help them better define problem areas and come up with potential solutions.

Deadline looms

Papa said the program is still recruiting contestants. The competition is limited to 40 applicants – a team or individual can apply by Feb. 4. On Feb. 11, contestants will meet and receive the technology devices and data to activate their proposals during a supervised crash course.

The next key date is March 11, the first round of pitches to panel of judges. Five finalists will be chosen to pitch on March 23, with the winner chosen that day, according to the website.