Can blockchain technology help get rid of your garbage? A number of startups working on blockchain-based waste management and recycling solutions think so.
Too Much Trash, Too Little Accountability
To date, two main waste management challenges have emerged at the center of efforts to build better waste management solutions via the blockchain.
Perhaps the greatest issue facing the waste management industry is that there is simply so much waste to handle. Worldwide, solid waste generation is projected to increase by 70 percent between 2010 and 2025. As the volume of waste grows, so does the difficulty of finding a place to put it all without polluting.
One important way of combating this problem is to make better use of recycling in order to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. That's what cities like San Francisco are doing as they pursue a "zero waste" goal .
However, increasing recycling rates is easier said than done in many cases. Consumers are sometimes confused about what can be recycled or how to do it. And they often have little incentive to recycle, since the extra effort required to sort and deposit recyclables usually results in little financial reward. In many cases, there is no financial incentive to recycle at all. When such incentives do exist, they tend to come in the form of bottle deposit fees that fail to keep pace with inflation .
These factors help to explain why, in the United States, only about 23 percent of recyclable bottles are actually recycled.
Another major waste management issue results from limited accountability within the networks that transport waste from households and businesses to landfills.
Consumers who diligently sort out recyclables from trash have little way of knowing that the former do not end up in landfills despite their efforts, because it is impossible in most cases for consumers to track waste once it leaves their curb. It is also difficult to ensure that the fees contractors charge local governments to dispose of waste - which are typically measured according to the weight of the waste - are accurately calculated. The lack of accountability and visibility within waste management networks further disincentivizes recycling, while also making environmentally responsible waste management difficult.
But a number of companies are building platforms that use blockchains to solve these issues.
Founded in 2013, the Plastic Bank was among the first organizations to turn to blockchain technology as a way of improving waste management. Its specific focus is on reducing the amount of plastic waste that pollutes oceans.
The group's vision is simple: By using cryptocurrency payments to reward people for recycling plastic waste, it hopes to provide a better incentive system, while also improving the quality of life for people who participate in its recycling networks.
Cryptocurrency-based recycling rewards are important not just because they provide financial incentives for recycling that can be more valuable than the bottle deposits available in developed countries, but also because they enable rewards payments for people in developing countries who lack access to banks, and therefore cannot be paid in other ways for recycling. Given that much of the world's trash ends up in developing nations , cryptocurrency recycling rewards promise to be particularly innovative for increasing recycling rates worldwide - and, by extension, reducing overall waste.
Recereum is using the blockchain to tackle another challenge related to recycling: Waste sorting, or the process of sorting recyclable materials from other types of waste.
The project is building a platform that will enable municipalities and other organizations to reward proper waste sorting. Eventually, the project hopes to go further by releasing devices like vending machines where consumers can turn in specialty recyclables, such as batteries.
Swachhcoin aims to improve not just recycling but the entire waste management process by combining blockchain technology with big data analytics and IoT-enabled smart devices. Its digital token, also called "Swachhcoin," serves primarily as a payment system for rewarding individual households for participating in the platform, but the company also says it is developing other technologies to improve the efficiency of waste management once waste has left individual consumers.
Agora Tech Lab
The Agora Tech Lab 's take on cryptocurrency-based recycling rewards is similar to that of the companies described above, with one key difference: Its digital token can be redeemed for public services. In this way, the company aims to integrate blockchain-based recycling rewards into local economies, strengthening community ties at the same time that it improves recycling rates.
Dutch Ministry for Infrastructure
Most of the blockchain-based waste management solutions described above focus on improving recycling rates. The Dutch Ministry for Infrastructure envisions another way to put blockchain technology to use for waste management: improving accountability and visibility into waste while it is in transit.
In April 2018, the agency announced that it had commissioned software companies to develop a custom waste management solution that enables better tracking of waste as it travels from producers to landfills.
Waste management challenges will only grow more difficult as the amount of waste produced by the world's population increases. While blockchain technology can't solve all of the issues in the industry, it stands to improve accountability and provide better incentives for recycling. Since every bit helps in reducing the world's waste issues and mitigating the effects of pollution, blockchain technology will prove to be an important part of the solution for waste management.