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Plastic bottle on a beach

Turning trash into cash: a revolutionary solution for plastic waste

Landfills are exploding and more waste is being burned than ever before: our reliance on single-use plastic products and packaging is causing irreversible damage.  Is there a way to tackle our plastic consumption, while also encouraging innovation, sustainable growth and robust employment opportunities?   A team of Ericsson ONE intrapreneurs believe they have the solution: they’re using the circular economy model to save the world one polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle at a time. Discover how they’re turning trash into cash! 

In one sentence, what is this new solution?

A recycling tracking and reporting solution that brings connectivity and transparency to waste ecosystems to create circular economies, enabling a digital and effective user journey to minimize our customers' and partners' carbon footprint. 

What challenges are you trying to solve through your recycling tracking platform?

Earth is a closed loop system, meaning there isn’t an unlimited amount of resources. The challenge we are trying to solve is how to take care of the material ‘mother nature’ gives to us. This requires moving away from the linear-consumption approach: extracting, creating, using and then burning it. Instead, we want to create responsibility through a value chain. Our solution is tackling PET consumption, with the goal to eventually scale it further worldwide to assist with the recycling of other materials such as aluminum and glass.  Ultimately, we want to strive for a zero waste approach, where all waste gets reused e.g., where plastic is turned into something more permanent such as a tile.  

How can your solution solve these challenges?

To find a solution for the PET problem we asked ourselves: “How can we combine easily accessible technology and a financial incentive to solve this problem by massively increasing collection volumes?” For us, the answer was to create a specialized platform that uses the Ericsson fintech initiative, the Ericsson Wallet Platform. Our end-to-end recycling platform is creating an international solution for transacting and tracking PET bottles.  

How does the solution work?

The Ericsson Wallet Platform provides the ability to financially incentivize recycling at scale in the Middle East and Africa region, by financially compensating the general population for the return of their PET bottles. Consumers would receive financial compensation, directly deposited their e-wallet, for every PET bottle they deposit. The platform can also follow each transaction that happens throughout the value chain. For example, if a general member of the public comes to the waste collection point with 10 bottles, they are paid for those bottles by the waste management collection company through the Ericsson Mobile Wallet Platform, and this transaction is recorded. The orchestrator platform is able to collect all sorts of information about each step, in terms of brands and volume, and issues certificates to verify that the products have been handed over to authorized recyclers. In addition to providing this ability to incentivize consumers at scale, a state-of-the-art data tracking platform is under development that will give a total and reliable end-to-end tracking of the recycling of raw materials in circular economies. And much more. 

What are the main benefits of developing the project within Ericsson ONE?

Ericsson ONE assesses the initial business idea to make sure it is both ‘doable’ and a good fit for Ericsson, so they help you identify any flaws before you even start out. Then once you have ‘kicked off’, Ericsson ONE is a ‘one stop shop’ for building a business – from legal advice, and financial assistance to IT security compliance – as well as teaching other soft skills such as how to make the perfect pitch. They also provide us with access to experts within different domains. We are giving the support we need financially to build the business case, rather than spending all our time trying to find funding to keep the business going. This is a direct opposition to being an entrepreneur and taking in external capital from day one, meaning you often live on the false belief that you’ve got money even though you’re not making any progress yet; we’ve seen many businesses fail that way as they aren’t making any real money to cover their costs. Specialized services, especially legal fees, are extremely expensive and as an entrepreneur, you often would have to look for sub-optimal solutions, because you can't afford world class expertise. Ericsson ONE also has support functions to make sure you really ‘fly,’ and they continue to provide you with the necessary coaching through all the different business steps. Even the Ericsson name alone opens doors for a start-up.

What’s the current status of the project and what are the next steps?

Looking ahead, the easy scalability of this project means it could get adopted by other countries, eventually becoming the information backbone for the recycling of materials. The project is already being supported by governments globally, and we are in the prototyping phase. In the next year, we are looking to dramatically accelerate!

Reflections on the project

We are deeply passionate about the power of connectivity and how we can use it to make the world a better place, as well as building intrapreneurship – and this concept has both. Our trash for cash focused team is made up of other incredible Ericsson colleagues who are high performers in their own space, and while we are all very diverse, we complement each other – we are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and together we find that one plus one doesn’t equal two, but six! The more we succeed, the better the world becomes – and this gives us such a strong drive to always push on; it’s a beautiful equation. It might sound cliché, but we are all united by our belief in the power of connectivity, and how this can make the world a better place. We are working together to build a sustainable world with our solution – and this makes all the late nights and weekend work worthwhile.