Circular Economy

As the world’s waste mounts, technology is helping communities reduce, reuse and recycle

image of waste collectors at a landfill in India

A new initiative is working to ensure less recyclable materials go to waste. Image: REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Mark McCord
Writer, Formative Content
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Circular Economy

  • India-based Recykal is using cloud-based web and mobile applications to track waste and promote recycling.
  • The initiative wants to reduce the amount of recyclable material that ends up burned, dumped or in landfill.
  • Growing levels of waste are a global problem with damaging environmental consequences, especially for poorer communities.
  • Recykal is one of 17 members of The Circulars Accelerator Cohort 2021 on UpLink.

Responsibly disposing of trash is a headache for communities the world over, but an Indian company is showing how web and mobile technology can help in a country facing growing amounts of waste.

Recykal, a social enterprise based in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, is using cloud-based digital apps to streamline the collection and recycling of non-biodegradable rubbish in the world’s second-most populous nation.

The technology is designed to track waste as it moves from the trash cans of homes, businesses and municipal authorities to its processing, recycling and reuse. Recykal hopes this will help modernize and bring transparency to India’s waste management industry.

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“Recykal’s digital technology will drive positive behavioural changes among consumers, enable transactions in the waste value chain and bring scale, measurability, and traceability,” co-founder Abhishek Deshpande told the Hindu Business Line newspaper in 2020.

The initiative is aiming to help fill a hole in South Asia’s waste management infrastructure. In a region of approaching 2 billion people, trash management is underfunded and lacks enforcement to prevent the open dumping of rubbish in dangerous and environmentally damaging ways, according to a report by the World Bank.

Raising recycling rates

Recykal aims to encourage producers to take more responsibility for the disposal and reuse of the waste they generate, with what it calls “w-commerce” – the digital management of the waste economy.

Its online Marketplace app puts recyclers in touch with collection services, streamlining the gathering of trash from communities, streets, businesses and municipal outlets. Its Smart Centre Solution enables waste operators to digitize record-keeping, settlements and transactions.

Consumers can play a role, too. Recykal's Plastic Takeback Program encourages people to end a culture of throwing away unwanted material that has resulted in 40% of all recyclable plastic trash being put in landfill.

A wasteful world

Commitments to recycling underpin the World Economic Forum’s promotion of a circular economy – one in which materials remain in use for as long as possible so the world makes fewer new products and the earth’s virgin resources and energy are put under less pressure.

In its report, the World Bank estimates that waste generation will rise to 3.4 billion tonnes annually by 2050, from just over 2 billion tonnes today. Urbanization, population growth and the expense of managing waste in developing cities is propelling the increase.

Projected Global Waste Generation
By 2050, global waste generation will rise to 3.4 billion tonnes each year. Image: World Bank

In low-income countries, more than 90% of unwanted material is dumped in the open or burned, the report states. That’s leaving impoverished communities exposed to foul waterways, air pollution, disease and the dangerous practice of waste picking – trying to make a living by combing through piles of rubbish.

The South Asian experience

South Asia is forecast to see some of the fastest growth in waste generation. The World Bank found that 75% of waste in the region is openly dumped, while nearly 45% is collected via door-to-door programmes.

The Indian government started taking steps to improve its waste disposal facilities seven years ago. Recykal estimates that the country’s businesses spend $13.4 billion a year getting rid of their rubbish.

But streamlining the sector has proven difficult because regulations can differ from state to state and are overseen by multiple authorities. This makes it harder to dispose of waste safely, unify initiatives, follow standards and offer predictable flows of materials to recyclers.


How UpLink is helping to find innovations to solve challenges like this

A rounded approach

Recykal supports the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. It is one of 17 companies selected from more than 200 applicants for The Circulars Accelerator Cohort 2021, which is run in collaboration with UpLink, the World Economic Forum’s innovation crowdsourcing platform.

The six-month programme – which is led by Accenture, in partnership with Anglo American, Ecolab and Schneider Electric – helps circular innovators scale their solutions by providing them with tailored support and mentorship, and connecting them with industry leaders.

It operates through UpLink, which launched at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in 2020. The platform crowdsources expertise and resources to help scale up innovative ideas that can advance the UN's SDGs.

Other Circulars include Natural Fiber Welding of the US, which makes strong sustainable materials and yarns that enable clothes, shoes, handbags and car interiors to be produced with minimal environmental impact.

UK-based bio-manufacturer Biohm is creating building materials from food and agricultural waste in a move that could significantly reduce scrap in the construction industry.

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Related topics:
Circular EconomyClimate ChangeFourth Industrial Revolution
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