Blog
Nov 21

How to make money with trash?

THE TRASH PROBLEM

We have little doubt that there is anybody on this planet that would doubt the fact that there is too much trash around. Especially when we talk about plastic trash.

The oceans have become filled with plastic over the last decades and there are plastic islands floating on the ocean! Even in our bodies microplastics have been discovered, even in the DNA of a fetus.

Besides, resources are getting scarce and then the question arises, can’t we reuse everything that we produce? Isn’t it possible to create a circular economy?

The trading of other resources like copper or aluminum is already very common and people get paid to bring it to a dealer or collector. Why don’t we have something like that for all our trash? Supposedly, trash has become a new resource to extract valuable materials.

Well, actually there is such a system already. In Germany the Pfandsystem for PET bottles (deposit system) allows customers to get 25c per bottle or aluminum can. And actually people bring their plastic to the collectors and strees are relatively clean of trash. ..

This idea gave birth to an inspiring start-up TRASHCOIN.

 

TRASHCOIN

Trashcoin is a plattform in Nigeria where people can bring their trash and get paid. Everything works via a mobile app. The start up was founded by students of an MBA programm of Reutlingen University and was inspired by the German Pfandsystem. The start-up is based in Berlin but the plattform is in first place for Nigeria.

https://www.trashcoin.eu

 

MEETING WITH CHANGEMAKERS: TRASHCOIN

We had the pleasure to interview Nnodim Eliot Wogu cofounder of TrashCoin 

The idea was born from a students’ project and was inspired by the german #pfandsystem (deposit system). Trashcoin is a very inspiring business that helps clean up our environment and at the same time provides a way to make #moneyfromwaste.

 

If you like the video, you can help us spread the word and share it on social media. We would really appreciate that you want to to co-create with us to create positive impact.

 

THE PODCAST TO THE INTERVIEW

If you like listening, we also have an audio version of the interview available.

READ THE WHOLE INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT HERE:

Philipp Schuster

Hi Elliot. Thanks for joining me today and giving me a little interview. And we’ll have the chance to get to know you and talk about Trashcan High to Berlin.

 

Eliot Wogu

Hi Philip. Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to share about my entrepreneurship experience and also about trash coin, what we’re doing and what we have done so far.

 

Philipp Schuster

Thank you so much. Just a quick background. Why did I invite Elliott and how did I come up with the idea of an interview? Because with a friend of mine, we were talking about zero waste and waste to reduce plastic. And we’re talking about zero waste festivals and hotels. And we’re having a discussion about how to incentivize people, like to separate waste maybe, or even to reduce waste or even paying people to bring back their resources. That something we know maybe from metals, aluminum, things like that, copper that’s more common. But thinking about maybe plastic, we normally don’t think that we would get paid for bringing plastic. And this is where I think your project comes into play. First, I would like to get to know you a little bit more and maybe you can give up the audience, a little idea of where you’re coming from, what you’re doing in Berlin and about your entrepreneurship. And then maybe we can dive into the topic more specifically of Trash Coin. What is Trash Coin and how does it actually work? And in the end, maybe we have some advice for our audience like how to reduce waste and how can we help Trash Coin to be more successful.

 

Philipp Schuster

So. Yeah. Elliot all yours?

 

Eliot Wogu

Great. Thank you so much, Philipp. Once again. My name is Wagu Noddem Elliot. I am originally from Nigeria, but I moved to Germany in 2019 for my MBA studies at the ESB Business School, University of Reutlingen. And during my studies, I cofounded Trash Coin with a few colleagues during social entrepreneurship class. For us, as Trash Coin, what we thought to do was to be able to give plastic waste value so that people no longer have to dump it or towel their plastic waste indiscriminately. In a nutshell, what we wanted to do was to make people see the plastic they are holding for, let’s say €1 or €10 or something. So just give it that value. And then once you have that value, people would not trade out anymore. People just hold on to it and then try to get their money back. So this is what we wanted to do when we started.

 

Philipp Schuster

I see. And how it’s actually working at the moment, because I see on the website you’re talking about waste in Nigeria and you’re based in Berlin. But the video I saw was at Lidl. So maybe you can clarify how is the whole system working. You have an app and I saw that you bring plastic and you get some coin, like a cryptocurrency, I guess it is. And maybe you can explain how this whole thing is working.

 

Eliot Wogu

Okay? Yeah. So, as I said, the motivation for this project was born out of two things. In 2018, I lost one of my closest friends in Nigeria, and it was as a result of malaria. Right. And when you look at it, the plastic waste that we see today in Nigeria, in Africa, actually had a direct relationship to malaria. Why? Because people dump it indiscriminately. And then this plastic waste, they find their ways to the drainages. And because they are nondegradable, they block these drainages. And then we have stagnation of waters. Right. And this is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. And these mosquitoes were around and squad malaria that kills more people than HIV and AIDS. And so when I came to Germany, I saw the plastic deposit system, which was amazing. So with this system, whenever you purchase any drinks, you have to deposit twenty five cents. And when you have enough, maybe sometimes you could even be broke as a student. Or you take these bottles down to the shop, complete the recycling process, and you can get sometimes €5, sometimes 7 or 10 euros. And that’s enough for a meal or two for you. Right.

 

Eliot Wogu

And this was amazing. The resulting effect of this whole process was a very clean and sustainable environment. You could see everywhere. I mean, the little plastic that would drop from people who may be tired of moving with one bottle around are picked up by some other people who want to make another living.

 

Eliot Wogu

And out of it. So you see, the environment is completely free of plastic waste. Hence, we actually looked at this model critically and tried to learn from it and rebuild something. But then when we compared maybe country for country knowing Germany is a very well developed country and our home country is a developing country. We do not have the resources, we do not have the infrastructure. The economy is quite different, right? Hence we thought to have ideas around this idea, different model for ideas. How can we, for example, replace those reverse engines that we are not able to immediately afford? We do not have constant electricity in our country to power and maybe the attitude or behavior of the people back home would be the same here, right? So we actually looked at all of these things and thought of the best way to come up with a solution that would fit the market that we’re looking to get into. Hence we came up with a mobile application. Mobile application, because I think at the last check, but 46% of the Nigerian population had access to smartphones internet, right? So we said, okay, maybe we can start with this.

 

Eliot Wogu

We built a mobile application and now we replace the machines with human beings. So we have created a new sector which we call recycling as a business. So what it entails is so in a community you could have people who maybe they have their shops or they have some other business that they are doing, they could register on our web platform as a collector. So in that small community you could have five to ten collectors and you don’t have to travel far because this is actually one of the problems of recycling. Oh, you have to take your bottles and you want to go far, whatever. But now you just use our mobile application, click a button and it will check around your vicinity and it will show you the closest recycling or collection points to you. You take your buttons to these people, they wait it and then they generate the voucher with our platform. This voucher you scan with the mobile application and then the value of the voucher is added to your mobile app. Now from there you can transfer the value straight to your bank account. You can use it to buy internet data, mobile airtime.

 

Eliot Wogu

You can use it to buy electricity. You can use it to pay for health insurance and pay for university entrance examination. So what we tried to do was just create a solution that’s not just monetary incentives, we’re just giving people alternatives. Oh, your plastic can be used to recharge your phone or your plastic can be used to pay for your cable TV. You can actually use your plastic to pay for electricity to do different things. So we are capturing different audiences with the value that we are actually bringing and what’s in for the people who have now signed up to our recycling as a business platform. They collect now their aggregators, so the aggregate maybe from 100 they resell to bigger recycling companies that have the capacity to process them into flakes or pellets. And then when they resell, they make at least 20% profit margin. And if you do this regularly, I mean every month, you’re sure of some kind of good profit for yourself as a business. And this is now creating new jobs, new opportunities, empowering a whole lot of people and saving our environment of plastic waste.

 

Philipp Schuster

Very interesting. I have already a couple of questions. One you just answered. Why do the companies sign up to collect it because then they can resell it as primary resources or secondary, which then become again another input. And on the other hand, I was wondering all these things you can benefit from, like paying electricity bill or student fees, those are actually coming from partnerships or have you been having to do lots of networking back home talking to people like saying, hey, would you accept that? Because in the end those companies have to give real benefits to their customers.

 

Eliot Wogu

So we didn’t need to do much of the marketing or partnerships. We have payment gateways and all we needed to do was to plug our solution into one of the payment gateways, one of the popular payment gateways and then all of these services are available. So yeah, directly there’s actually no.

 

Eliot Wogu

Testing. So we are seeing a company in the future as an echo fintech solution, like a green fintech solution. And this is what it is right now because we can actually just get the utility payments, I think just a few services that are missing, like maybe interbank transfers and all of those things. That’s why we can say, oh, we’re fintech fintech solution right now. But look at it as an eco fintech solution, a green fintech solution right now. Because we are helping recycling companies pay for this waste. We’re helping recycling companies pay for this waste. That normally before what the practice was for them to write on paper. Okay, you have bought five kg. This is the number of kg you have today. And then when you come again, they are writing it on paper. But now we serve as an escrow. They fund their accounts to be able to generate the vouchers. And then when the users get this payment to the app, whenever they withdraw from our system, they get the direct payments into their own account. So this is what we’re doing, making it easy for them. And the cost of logistics, I mean, for certain companies, we are saving them logistics costs, transportation costs.

 

Eliot Wogu

We are ensuring that they get very clean plastic bottles going forward. Before now, the practice was that these bottles would get to the dump sides, seaside and become very dirty and contaminated. But now these bottles would move from people’s homes straight to the collectors or aggregators and then to the recycling companies. And you see that this system ensures that it’s very clean.

 

Philipp Schuster

Interesting. Yeah, that’s an important point because even if then the collecting points would say, hey, don’t bring me dirty yogurt boxes, for example, please wash them out once we’re starting to resolve the problem of not being able to separate the waste like you mentioned. And one other thing that comes to my mind when I listen to you explaining what the system is good for, it’s a very open network and you replace like for example in Nigeria, I’m sure that there’s lack of funds from the public sector investing into waste collecting infrastructure. I’m in Spain. Here. Canary Islands. And I already see right next to my home, there’s only one trash bin. There’s no paper, there’s no plastic, there’s no glass. It’s just the average rest waste. So I would have to really make the effort to go somewhere, find the next paper trash, to really say I want to recycle my paper, I do that. But it requires a big effort. I even have to move my car to recycle my trash. It is a bit crazy, but then I see your idea and then it’s a network creating and you replace also the need for public investment in a way, right?

 

Eliot Wogu

Yes, exactly. So this is what we have done. I mean, trying to take out the challenges of recycling and make it very, very convenient. And inclusive for everyone to be able to recycle.

 

Philipp Schuster

Very interesting just now, like a little critical question, because now when you incentivize bringing trash, how can you maybe avoid that? Now people produce more trash because now they can make money with making trash in a way. Have you thought about that? Is there any kind of mechanism to incentivize reducing the amount of trash you produce?

 

Eliot Wogu

Okay, so for example, let’s take plastic waste, right? If you have to produce more waste than you have bought or you’re buying so it doesn’t make sense that because you want to get incentives that you’re going to buy more plastic bottles or plastic drinks. So it’s just like a system that balances whatever you have used and then you just bring to us. Now, we’re not telling you to go generate more waste. It’s not something that you can just easily generate. You have to buy with your money, first of all, and then get less than 10% of what you have bought that drink. So why should you do that?

 

Philipp Schuster

No, just a funny question to think about, because if you, I don’t know, think about on a festival and you would pay money for people to bring your trash, maybe they would bring in more trash from the outside which they haven’t generated just to get money. That’s what I mean by in the end, if the overall effect is reducing the waste, which is the aim we have. That’s the main thing. And what I find very curious from your observation, because I’m here in a country where you don’t have this deposit system like in Germany, but I know it since I’m also from Germany and I always talk to the Spanish people and say, hey, we have the system. And I can really assure you you won’t find beer bottles on the floor. You won’t find plastic bottles, Coca Cola, whatever, Pepsi on the floor, because people just don’t throw them away like that because there’s a value to it. Most of them can’t believe it. And I see lots of trash just laying around on the floor. And I wasn’t used to that coming from Germany, apart from having maybe better infrastructure. But just people throw it away much easier and there’s nobody that then comes, like you said, to pick it up.

 

Philipp Schuster

I remember also in Germany, on the weekends you go out and at night you see people with their big shopping carts on the partying streets and collecting all the bottles and people even give them the empty bottles, like saying, hey, here’s my it’s amazing. And it’s funny that you took that idea and created the trash coin. And now you mentioned the case of Nigeria. Is there any way that you’re thinking of exporting that now, for example, to Germany? Is there already something in Germany or in Europe? Yes.

 

Eliot Wogu

So what we actually did with my team, when we looked at it critically, it’s actually very cool to create this platform for collection. But we also wanted to ensure that whatever has been collected would not just be used or maybe misused anyhow. So already we have started negotiations with a few companies here in Germany and we are applying the hub and spoke approach where we are also now going to act as buyers from those recycling companies that have processed. We can buy from them uptake and then we export to the German market since we have a presence in Germany and in Nigeria. So, I mean, we’re leveraging that presence that we have in both countries and continents to see that, yes, we can actually be that backbone. When people buy, they are shown that whatever they are collecting from our platform, they wouldn’t have to wait one week or one month to resell them. We can always and we will always buy from them and resell to the German market. And by the way, that’s actually where the bulk of the profit is. That value chain actually has the most profit. So it’s actually a very good one to play in as well.

 

Philipp Schuster

Okay. Yeah. From now, I don’t have any further questions. I’m very excited to see how the project or the company evolves. Please let us stay updated. Maybe in the future time we see you again and you can tell us about the progresses you’ve done. And maybe in Spain I can get some trash coins one day too. I would like to thank you so much for your time and hope to see you again.

 

Eliot Wogu

Yeah, thank you so much as well, Philip.

 

Philipp Schuster

Thank you. Bye.