Empower a Global Plastic Waste Deposit and Tracking System
The digital infrastructure for a circular economy-a global deposit system incentivising transparent collection and tracking of plastic waste
Pitch us on your solution
Inspired by the Norwegian plastic bottle recycling system, Empower tackles the global plastic crisis by giving plastic a value through a blockchain-driven Global Plastic Waste Deposit & Tracking System.
By rewarding the act of depositing, Empower incentivizes plastic collection in areas in great need, helps local communities in Bangladesh to overcome poverty by providing income opportunities, and uses blockchain to pave the way to a circular economy where plastic retains its value throughout various life cycles. The digital Deposit System allows sponsors to see the real impact of their contributions and local plastic collectors to immediately collect their reward in digital tokens. Such system creates transparency in how plastic cleaning takes place and provides the necessary security in terms of identity and transactions. The Tracking System enhances the transparency of waste management and product traceability in the supply chain. It redesigns plastic waste-flows and connects all value chain stakeholders for a fully circular economy.
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What is the problem you are solving?
Bangladesh currently faces the worst case scenario of sea pollution due to plastic as it ranked among top 10 plastic polluted countries due to poor waste management. Plastic comprises 8 percent of the country's waste generated every year, weighing some 800,000 tonnes. Marine litter or debris, which include plastic wastes – predominantly the result of poor waste management – is a fundamental problem due to its harmful effect on the environment, wildlife and human health
The plastic recycling industry in Bangladesh comprises only 200 companies who claim to be recovering about 70% of the plastic waste that is being generated in the country. Unfortunately the remaining 30% still amounts to about 17,000 tonnes annually. A bulk of this waste gets trapped in the sewers of the major cities, especially of densely populated capital Dhaka and the second largest city Chittagong, causing the sewerage systems to break down repeatedly. UN Habitat says Dhaka is the world’s most crowded city, with 44,500 people living in each square kilometre. More are added every day, especially from coastal areas, as people are forced out of their homes due to sea level rise and increased soil salinity, consequences of climate change.
Who are you serving?
We serve the Bangladeshi populations living in areas with insufficient to no waste management infrastructures who are the most affected by the plastic crisis.
Empower tackles the plastic pollution (SDG 14) by incentivising collection of plastic waste. We indirectly tackle climate change and disaster risks as everyone actively cleans up plastic waste and gives it a longer life cycle: by curbing the expanding plastic production, we are limiting the negative effects that the plastic industry, a major carbon emissions contributor, has on climate change.
We aim to reduce inequalities (SDG 10) and promote decent work and economic growth (SDG 8) with a micro-loan solution via our digital platform where the loans can be repaid in plastic. Financial inclusion can be achieved as each collector has a digital account/e-wallet through our app where there is potential in the long run to give them access to banking, insurance and other financial services.
We tackle gender equality as women from local communities will earn as much as the male plastic waste collectors, given that there is a set price for the plastic waste at the collection point. Female entrepreneurs can also take part in Empower’s micro-loans solution, helping them to build their business dream.
What is your solution?
Our solution challenges plastic waste by giving plastic a value: anyone who comes and deposits plastic waste at a collection point will receive a financial reward given out under the form of digital tokens. One would only need a smartphone and our Empower mobile application. As the plastic collector delivers plastic waste, he/she presents his/her QR code to be scanned, and receives the tokens immediately in his/her digital wallet. The tokens can be converted to the local currency (1 token = 1 USD) or donated to fund another clean- up. We are incentivising clean-ups of plastic waste on a large scale and closing the tap on plastic leakage into nature. Such incentives will improve the recycling habits of the local population when being introduced to countries which currently do not have such systematic plastic deposit scheme and are facing severe plastic pollution problems.
Our solution also provides direct recycling aids to countries which do not have the resources and waste management systems to handle the plastic pollution by themselves. The transparency and traceability of our blockchain-powered solution – which permits the immutable recordings of when, where, how much plastic has been collected and how much the plastic waste collector has been paid – provide the credibility for sponsors to invest in Empower’s plastic fund. It will change the way financial aids are currently being dealt with, thanks to a renewed level of trust and transparency. People are more likely to donate and sponsor plastic clean-ups if they see the real impact that they are making.
Finally, our solution enables the transparent tracking of plastic waste throughout the whole value chain, from their collection through the production process and commercialisation as a consumer product. Such global digital tracking infrastructure help shape a truly circular economy. Retail companies are thus able to prove their use of responsibly recycled plastic and show the story behind the products to their customers. Our solution helps businesses to achieve a higher level of customer engagement for their products/services by offering a means of product differentiation. By bundling any product/service with the possibility to offset plastic waste footprint, the customer is inspired by a sense of duty and commitment to the product/service that they purchase. In addition, consumers are increasingly interested in knowing the story behind the products that they buy: by putting forward the idea of traceability, blockchain also adds to value the product.
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Where our solution team is headquartered or located:Oslo, Norvège
In which sector would you categorize your solution?
Our solution's stage of development:Pilot
Describe what makes your solution innovative.
Our solution is inspired by the plastic bottle deposit system from the Nordics, the world’s most successful deposit system which recycles 97% of all the bottles, while the global recycling rate of plastic is only around 8%. If we manage to introduce a global plastic deposit system and raise the recycling rate up to 90%, we will be making tremendous financial and environmental impact.
Empower implements this idea in innovative ways.
Firstly, our solution will improve the recycling habits of the local population when being introduced to countries which currently do not have such systematic plastic deposit scheme and are facing severe plastic pollution problems because they do not have the resources to properly handle their waste.
Secondly, the blockchain technology behind our solution will change the way financial aids are currently being dealt with, thanks to a renewed level of trust and transparency. People are more likely to donate and sponsor plastic clean-ups if they know the real impact that they are making.
Thirdly, our solution helps businesses to achieve a higher level of customer engagement for their products/services by offering a means of product differentiation. By bundling any product/service with the possibility to offset plastic waste footprint, the customer is inspired by a sense of duty and commitment to the product/service that they purchase. In addition, consumers are increasingly interested in knowing the story behind the products that they buy: by putting forward the idea of traceability, blockchain also adds to the product value chain.
Why do you expect your solution to address the problem?
Our solution tackles plastic plastic pollution by incentivising the collection and tracking of plastic waste, giving it a higher value. Through our platform, recycled plastics are available to source in a safe and transparent way for the big corporations, paving the way to sustainable consumption and production
We provide a source of income for plastic collectors anywhere in the world, tackling the fight against poverty and hunger, while contributing to solve the plastic waste problem.
Empower has piloted the digital deposit system in 12 countries (Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Palestine, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos, Indonesia, Tanzania, Portugal), with the participation of over 1200 collectors paid for the plastic waste deposited.
Over 25 tons of plastic waste have been collected through these pilots. Laos and Tanzania were particularly successful, gathering 1 ton of plastic in just two months for the first and 1,2 ton in a few hours for the latter, both of which are becoming permanent collection points this year.
In the Laos case, the villagers were taught to deposit the plastic waste in the form of ecobricks by our local NGO partner, which has invited ecobricks experts from Vietnam to teach the villagers how to build with ecobricks. Meanwhile, Empower is preparing a microloans solution repayable in plastic through our digital platform. Financial inclusion can be achieved as each collector has a digital account through our app where there is potential in the long run to give them access to banking, insurance and other financial services.
Select the key characteristics of the population in Bangladesh your solution serves.
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people are you currently serving with your solution? How many will you be serving in one year? How about in five years?
Current number of plastic waste collectors that have participated and financially rewarded for the plastic they have collected: 1200
Number in one year: 30 000
Number in five years: 500 000
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
Our goal within the next year:
- Pilot a digital deposit & waste management infrastructure/plastic waste tracking in several countries in Europe, Asia and Africa ;
- Launch the first retail products based on our digital tracking platform, where we track consumer products from collection of plastic waste through the value chain and back into retail products made of recycled materials ; and
- Build a strong permanent team to enable further rapid piloting and commercial deployment of a global infrastructure for plastic waste collection and tracking.
Our goals within the next five years:
- Introduce plastic waste deposit systems in 60+ countries ;
- Operating a growing digital waste tracking platform with participation from major stakeholders of the plastic supply chain (including big waste management companies and retailers), providing them the opportunity to source social plastic and trace its origin;
- Setting up new digital deposit systems for other products
- Operating a micro-loans program for local entrepreneurs through the Empower platform (paying back in plastic)
What are the barriers that currently exist for you to accomplish your goals for the next year and for the next five years?
(1) Attractivity barrier: lack of incentive for individuals to collect plastic waste.
(2) Technical barriers: designing a user-friendly (speed) and scalable app while ensuring data protection.
(3) Legislative barriers:
- blockchain legislation: our System relies on blockchain and there is no legislation on commercial exploitation of blockchain, neither in Norway nor in the EU or in the countries we operate. Accordingly, everyone can have access to it and use it for its own purposes. We are well aware however that states are increasingly concerned by the different uses one can make of cryptocurrencies, digital tokens and blockchain, and we are worried that the use of blockchain for illegal activities (such as money laundering) would negatively affect the perception our users have of the technology we use ;
- data protection; and
- local legislations when setting up collection points.
(4) Operational barriers: lack of knowledge of the current local plastic waste system and conditions; lack of infrastructure to manage collected plastic wastes.
(5) Lack of capital for growth
(6) Infringement on intellectual property rights by competitors
(7) Unfavorable political landscape in areas where the collection points are set up
How are you planning to overcome these barriers?
1) We use digital tokens that can be turned into local currency, giving the user a concrete and real value/incentive and positive impact on the world and society
2) We are working with prototype solutions and testing them, careful to keep the system flexible enough.
3) Our CEO (head of the Oslo Blockchain Cluster) is working in close collaboration with Norwegian key stakeholders. We also closely follow the evolution of the EU legislation on this topic. We have made sure to be GDPR compliant. Last, at the operational level, we have made sure to always be granted a permission to establish collection points and work in close collaboration with key stakeholders on the plastic waste management issue.
4) We carefully select our partners for establishing collection points and work in close collaboration with organisations that have a good knowledge of local conditions as well as governments.
5) We focus on growing the revenues from the MVP, participating in alliances with larger companies that cover costs of pilots and development, be ready to raise equity when ready
6) Obtaining intellectual property protection (patents, trademarks, design protection), which shall minimize risks and act as a defense against infringement claims from others, a well-designed intellectual property strategy will also attract investors.
7) Reaching out to the local authorities when organising clean-ups and collaborating closely with them from the beginning during the entire process of setting up a permanent local plastic waste deposit & tracking system.
If you selected “I am planning to expand my solution to Bangladesh,” please provide an overview of your expansion plans. What is the market opportunity for your business or product in Bangladesh?
According to the Bangladesh Plastic Goods Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BPGMEA), the industry is worth $3 billion, with domestic consumption valued at about USD 2.2 billion.
On an average 24,000 tonnes of solid waste is produced in major cities of the country every day, with 10% of it being plastic waste, up from 7% a few years ago. Despite several efforts, the authorities have failed to clean the sewers, and more importantly, to make people responsible about using and disposing plastic bags. The government now wants plastics manufacturers to be in charge of recycling, by taking back bags via shops. Beside manufacturing the widely popular packaging material, the manufacturers might also have to collect the waste generated from their products. Many of them have been making high profits due to the demand for convenient industrial and home packaging materials. On an average, four billion PET bottles are manufactured every year in Bangladesh, especially for marketing carbonated beverages, and most of them are discarded after being used once. There is a market opportunity for Empower to introduce a scalable, low-cost and effective deposit system for plastic waste.
Select an option below:For-profit
How many people work on your solution team?
Our team is today composed of 10 employees, and 9 members who are contributing their time, skills and insights on a regular basis (on issues related to finance, marketing, NGOs, accounting, business development, communications, etc.) as part of the extended Empower team.
For how many years have you been working on your solution?
Since February 2018
Why are you and your team best-placed to deliver this solution?
Empower combines experience from both corporations and start-ups in various sectors, with key members having a background in building international companies. We have extensive experience from developing and designing cutting-edge tech solutions and apps, and getting them out in the market, both for start-ups and companies like Opera and Yahoo!. Our marketing team includes some of the most visible ambassadors for the plastic waste cause in Norway, while our equity and funding abilities, both in-house and with collaborating partners, have an extensive track-record of successful development of international Start-Ups. We are primarily missing additional developing capacity and fashion industry experience.
Wilhelm Myrer (CEO) has 12 years of cross sector experience as founder, part of executive management and board of directors in several start-ups from industries ranging from oil & gas, renewable energy, mining and blockchain technology and app development. He is also the chairman of the Oslo Blockchain Cluster.
Gjermund Bjaanes (CTO) is specialized in innovation and how to use disruptive technologies such as AI, VR/AR and Blockchain to provide real value for businesses, he also was also a senior developer and team lead for several years prior to his focus on innovation.
Carl Nesset (COO) has a background in media and ICT and worked as a lecturer, filmmaker and entrepreneur. He later moved into innovation and the fintech scene in Oslo, where he founded SmartWay, an offline mobile payment platform.
With what organizations are you currently partnering, if any? How are you working with them?
Empower partners up with two different types of partners to develop our Deposit and Tracking System:
- Local non-profit organisations interested in addressing the local plastic waste problems: they act as the local collaborators, set up and operate the collection point with the support of Empower’s digital Deposit System (such as Silwal, Indias barn / Children’s Future India, Aays Village, Nordic ocean watch, Peniche Ocean Watch). Empower also works with local recycling facilities who will process and treat the collected plastic.
- Corporate partners interested in piloting and being a part of the Tracking System: they are stakeholders of the plastic value chain, such as waste aggregators, recycling companies, certification experts, working with Empower to pilot a digital supply chain with digital registration, transparency and traceability.Empower is partnering up with international corporations such as the Norwegian DNV GL, Tomra, Orkla, Vestre, Norwegian Shipowners Association, Klaveness Digital, Subsea7, Radddi Connect and more.
What is your business model?
Our key beneficiaries are plastic waste collectors from areas severely affected by plastic waste problems. We provide them with a basic income on a permanent basis, create jobs through the building of new collection points, guaranteeing their livelihoods. In the long run, the collectors will have access to wider banking and other financial services, such as micro-loans, improving their financial and social inclusion.
Our key customers are:
We target individuals who become sponsors by contributing a fixed amount per month and achieving different goals based on the type of commitments.
II. Corporate entities
We offer different products:
- corporate subscription to become “plastic positive”, funding clean-ups around the world,
- collaboration to incorporate the collected and recycled plastic into the retail products (packaging, shoes, swimwear, outdoor clothing etc.),
- product bundling (ex: a travel bought from a travel company can help clean-up xx kg of plastic waste, etc.).
- a digital tool to track the plastic waste through the value chain (the Empower Waste Tracking System)
- tailor-made deposit systems, for example Empower made the first digital deposit system for “snus boxes” (tobacco containers) for Swedish Match, launched in February 2019 in Norway and June 2019 in Sweden.
What is your path to financial sustainability?
In order to be financially sustainable and profitable, in addition to the private and corporate sponsorships funding the Empower’s plastic fund, Empower offers the products/services mentioned in the previous question (see answer in Business model) to corporate entities. Depending on the type of business collaboration, but on average each collaboration is commissioned with a fixed "set-up fee" of the system, a monthly recurring "plastic-positive subscription fee" and a recurring yearly "maintenance fee" for the management of the system.
For the Empower Waste Tracking System, we earn a commission on the value of traced plastic through the material and certificate transactions in the platform and also recurring subscription fees related to the digital tool, be it material tracking itself or dashboard and visualization services. We are also trying to raise funds to further develop this Tracking System.
In regards of tailor-made deposit systems, Empower is taking a recurring commission per container deposited as well as development fees (one-time) and maintenance fees (recurring).
Why are you applying to the Tiger Challenge?
As a young startup aiming to scale up and pilot our Global Deposit and Tracking System in Bangladesh, we are applying to Tiger Challenge for:
- Prize funding: We are already at a stage where we are commercializing our offerings, but with an organization already counting 10 employees and a model that is scalable, we need working capital in order to ramp up.
- Exposure within Tiger IT Foundation’s extensive community: it will definitely help Empower gain more traction internationally as Tiger IT Foundation is regarded as the nurturing place for innovative and disruptive solutions for Bangladesh. Being associated with Tiger IT Foundation will hence improve our visibility and credibility for people who have yet to know us in Bangladesh. We hope to be able to explore and benefit from their media partners.
- Access to network of fellow innovators, leading companies and investors: we would love for an opportunity to meet and connect with people who can support Empower to advance our solution and with whom we can create strategic partnerships. We would also love to meet and connect with investors.
- Nonfinancial support and mentorship: our main challenge at this point is focused on developing our product offerings and technological solutions within a controlled frame, while building and maintaining the organization that can reflect and support this work. Empower needs the valuable training and advice in areas that we are still exploring as we scale up.
What types of connections and partnerships would be most catalytic for your solution?
With what organizations would you like to partner, and how would you like to partner with them?
Empower also plans on cooperating with local players to improve/push forward the agenda of proper handling of the plastic waste, including:
Working with local governments and NGOs to develop a basic structure for waste management - by demonstrating that through the incentive-based collection and sorting effect of the digital deposit system, we create awareness and action/investments from local entrepreneurs as well as governments, as shown in our pilots in both Laos and Indonesia. Indeed local governments/mayors followed up with providing free land to expand the activities and also wanted to invest in their own recycling facilities to build on the system. Just creating awareness and understanding of possible solutions bring a definite value.
Working with local corporations/ international corporations that are locally implanted who either :
Want to be more socially responsible (due to social and legal pressure) and therefore want to contribute in cleaning up the waste generated from their products (Coca Cola, Unilever, etc). These can help set up a basic waste management structure.
Want to use responsibly recycled plastic in their production (and to be able to document that the plastic was actually properly recycled). These will be connected directly to the collection points, so the plastic will be treated and recycled by them before being integrated in a new cycle again (Bangladeshi government's requirement for plastic manufacturer to recycle their plastic products)
- Wilhelm Myrer CEO, Empower