Best & Brightest: Durham high school students develop app that could revolutionize recycling

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — Each week CBS 17 will feature the “Best and Brightest” of education in central North Carolina. The feature will include teachers, students, administrators, or programs which are unusual or attention-getting.

The first story takes us to the North Carolina School of Science and Math in Durham.

Not all recycling is created equal, and sometimes good intentions turn into, well, trash.

Enter students Jason Li and Dalia Segal-Miller. They are among of team of students who created a phone app that could revolutionize recycling in the future.

“Recycling has to be very specific items,” said Miller. “No food waste, no wet paper. It can contaminate it a little bit. So when it is contaminated, the entire batch has to be thrown out or [it can] cause problems in the recycling center.”

It was inspired by problems the students saw first-hand at their school.

“Last year our school had a really big problem with recycling and contamination. We had to stop for a few weeks to reset all the bins,” said Miller.

So a team of students from across the state began working on the app, created with the help of a newly-established artificial intelligence program.

“In order to create the app, first you have to train the algorithm. We’re using a neo-network. In order to do that we’re having students from around the school and around the state collect different images of waste,” said Li.

“We put these into a data set and let the data set learn the algorithm to classify different kinds of waste.”

Essentially, it sorts the waste by using a picture.

Dr. Leitia Hubbard oversees the project as somewhat of a program manager.

“This is a school-wide effort. These kids aren’t from any particular class, they’re from across the school.”

Miller described the long-term goal.

“Eventually I hope it’ll be accessible to point it at an object and see if it’s recyclable.”

The next step for the students is to take their app to a competition. They’ve already been awarded a grant through Samsung which provides them with certain electronics and technology needed to create the app.

Samsung will pick finalists from nationwide entries. It’ll then be up to the public to vote for the best technology and win a financial prize.

If you know of someone or something that deserves to be featured on “Best and Brightest,” send a nomination to anchor Bill Young at

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