News & Blog

The blockchain and how it could solve our recycling problems

Posted on December 05, 2018

Guest blog from Stewart McGrenary, Managing Director of Plunc.com

Attention is constantly drawn to Scotland’s recycling problem from a number of different angles, highlighting various subjects such as e-waste, plastic recycling or a hard look at the recycling industry in general.

However, the increase of recyclable waste still making its way into landfill is the main current concern. Plastic waste and e-waste turn up in landfill, releasing dangerous toxins that pose a greater threat to the environment than previously thought.

Within recent years, the blockchain has become an unlikely, but strong contender in the fight against the crisis. Its structure for storing and securing information seems to have strong ramifications for the recycling problem – possibly to solve it.

So how serious is the recycling problem in Scotland – what is working and what isn’t? What is the blockchain, and what are its implications for solving this crisis? Are there any examples of successful implementation of blockchain in the recycling industry? After answering these questions, what conclusions can we draw?

These questions will be explored and answered – to the extent possible – in this article.

How Serious Is Scotland’s Recycling Problem?

What is working?

To start off on the bright side, a major recycling initiative known as Zero Waste Scotland is making a massive impact in the following three areas:

1. Reducing the amount of waste generated - In 2011, the total amount of waste from all three major waste sources generated in Scotland amounted to 12 million tonnes. The very next year saw the total reduced by a stunning 2 million tonnes.

2. Increasing the amount of waste recycled – Recent estimates report that Scotland is recycling more than 60% of its waste. There is also an increase of 400% of the food waste recycled from homes since 2011.

3. Reducing the amount of waste to landfill – The amount of waste sent to landfill has shown a steady reduction each year, coming together for a total 50% reduction since 2005.

What isn’t working?

While we will keep this part of the picture brief, there are clearly three obstacles that occasionally overshadow the good that is being done. Fly-tipping, or illegal dumping, littering and dog-fouling are all still a problem, and stiff fines are being imposed on violators.

Despite these existing problems, however, Scotland deserves much praise for the valiant efforts being exerted to combat the waste and recycling problem.

What is the Blockchain, and what implications does it present in addressing the recycling problem?

The blockchain securely stores pieces of information in blocks, with each unique item of information assigned a digital signature, which identifies that information exactly as it was submitted so that the integrity of the information remains pure. As the number of blocks increases, they are “chained” together.

So what potential could this technology possibly have in improving the recycling problem?

Let’s consider e-waste, particularly cell phones, which have an alarming environmental footprint. The smaller they are, the more difficult they are to disassemble to recover small amounts of recyclables. As a result, they end up in the bins and eventually in the landfills in staggering numbers.

With current systems in place, there is nothing to stop a boss from overtly or covertly ordering a driver to dump their load at an undisclosed location. With the volume of transfers of waste, there is constant potential for human error, corruption or omission of data.

Applying the blockchain to the recycling process can account for every piece of recycled material and all data attached to it. In other words, no person can “foul” up the records (pardon the pun).

Are there any examples of successful implementation of blockchain in the recycling industry?

Around the world, there are indeed examples of successful use of blockchain. Most are either UK-based or near the UK, while others include the USA and the Netherlands.

1. Plastic Bank

Plastic Bank, formed in Canada, has improved plastic recycling efforts in a few developing countries and is expanding.

When a person recycles a plastic bottle at one of the recycling centres in their system, they are rewarded with a digital token, good for buying food or even charging time.

The blockchain technology is hosted on IBM’s LinuxONE servers, which uses a digital wallet system to track and store data and to keep transactions secure.

Users can also track their rewards and redeem them through the use of an available app.

All recycled material is then sold for reuse. All information attached to all material sold to them is “chained” from the recycling centre to the sale. Accounting is more precise for these companies, as they can better quantify the value of their investment.

2. French Rail

With the help of the blockchain, French rail saved over €2,000 in expenses every month from one station alone! And they continue to record all of the recycling activity of several recycling stations in their rail network.

They did this by assigning station bins with a block and using a bluetooth transmitter that updated a central system which recorded the type of waste collecting and where it ends up.

They were better able to determine which stations collected what material, and even the person who moved it from the station.

3. RecycletoCoin App

Created by the Blockchain Development Company, or BCDC, this app is being used in the UK, and the initiative is being expanded in other major cities around the globe. Here is how it works:

You drop off your aluminum cans or bottles at a collection point and using the app, you scan the QR code. In exchange, you receive BCDC tokens to your BCDC wallet. These can then be converted into a virtual gift card, crypto-currency, or be spent toward other environmental projects.

4. Goodr

The food waste company Goodr is based in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, and uses blockchain for verification purposes. The Atlanta-based business recovers excess food from restaurants and businesses in order to donate it instead of throwing it away.

Have you been to a grocery store and donated food to a charity? You cannot confirm if the food left the grocery store, let alone made it to the intended charity. Goodr records the data on the blockchain so that it can be verified with 100% certainty and accuracy – even allowing real-time reporting analytics to show companies where the food is headed.

The data collected also allows organisations and restaurants to see which food tends to be wasted most, indicating where changes could be made and money could be saved.

5. ILT – Netherlands

Waste-carrying trucks transport waste in the Netherlands and across borders by the hundreds of thousands. These are checked manually. However, the Netherlands’ Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ILT) is working on a project to employ blockchain along with apps to automate this process.

And as the project develops, the hope is that they can better map where waste goes, and take swift action when needed, as well as freeing up vast amounts of time and money, due to the reduction of paperwork and continuous border crossing verification checks for truck drivers.

Conclusions

To be fair, Scotland has some astonishing initiatives in place. There is, however, much to be done. Truly, everyone is accountable, from the person recycling the waste to the companies that store it, process it and/or move it.

Fly tipping, littering and dog fouling are behavioural issues, which need to change at the personal level. Still, when violators are caught, this information could also be recorded in the blockchain. Repeat offenses can be “chained” to the original ones, making indelible records that cannot be altered.

Finally, as is evidenced by our five success stories from other parts of the world, recording movement of waste will help enforce accountability all around, and in some cases, automate aspects of waste management. This will ensure that the waste, whatever forms it takes, gets recorded and processed for the benefit of the environment.

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