Editor's Note: This story is part two in a two-part series that explores the use of blockchain to enhance Brazil's recycling infrastructure. Part one details the current state of recycling in the country and the partnership that was formed. Part two explains the technology and how it will be scaled.
As haulers and companies increasingly turn to blockchain and technology to improve their collection and transfer solutions, two companies are looking to transform recycling supply chains in Brazil.
Norway-based Empower is taking its digital tracking solution to the South American country, and, along with Brazil-based iWrc's platform, is curating a global digital infrastructure for recyclables powered by Empower's blockchain network
“Our vision is to connect the world to the informal sector with assurance” says Michael Maggio, iWrc president, “We cannot achieve this vision alone. Partnering with Empower and their blockchain platform is an amazing opportunity to provide our partners with real-time traceability in the most vulnerable part of the supply chain.”
According to the companies, the partnership will be an amalgamation of capacity building and traceability, with an end-goal of "ensuring that e-waste and plastic materials are responsibly collected and segregated at source, tracked through recycling and into new sustainable products again." The technology aims to open opportunities to businesses and organizations searching for transport, socially-responsible recycled materials.
Waste360 connected with both of the organizations to learn more about how collaboration utilizing blockchain technology is changing waste systems in South America. iWrc President Michael Maggio and Empower's Myrer coordinated with each other to provide insight.
Waste360: How does the online marketplace work? How much in terms of materials is processed through this marketplace? How does it connect sellers and buyers?
The marketplace is based on basic rules of supply and demand, which will be governed by the blockchain platform. Basic requirements matched to verified transactions. For example, if a brand wants to buy from waste collectors who have been trained in Health and Safety, or from cooperatives that are more than 50 percent female…the blockchain will allow for verification of each kg of material that passes through it. Today, the marketplace manages 200 tons of various materials between the informal sector and the supply chains of the brands who are part of the platform. Our hope is that this partnership between iWrc and Empower we can do more than 2000 tons per month of verified purchases from the iWrc Socially Assured network of cooperative partners. The marketplace connects Buyers directly to the Sellers giving new insight into the informal sector.
Waste360: Are there any particular commodities or materials that are of particular concern?
Currently we are focused on materials that have value, considered high value materials. However, the advantage of partnering with the informal sector is that their manual process opens the possibilities of including all materials for which there is a demand. Two years ago the cooperatives were not collecting e-waste, today more than 80 tons of e-waste are being purchased, disassembled and converted into materials that can be used for packaging and products because we created demand through our IT Sector partners. The key is creating demand through new revenue streams or stabilizing existing through fair-trade stable contracts. Our aim is to make it sustainable to collect and do segregation at source of all materials, before it becomes waste and is lost from the economy.
Waste360: Are there any key investments or systems that need to be implemented to make this marketplace scalable?
The key investment is the commitment from brands that they are willing to invest in assurance and verification. There is a cost to starting, scaling and maintaining a socially, environmentally and financially assured network within the first mile. We focus first on the people in the first mile or the social, second in the environment or circular materials – this is more than a credit based system, it is a materials marketplace and finally on the fair-trade principles to ensure that the most vulnerable people in the supply chain are treated fairly. In order to scale this model and create value for all involved we need to shift the thinking to the material and eliminate the risks of acquiring the material to be used in the supply chain.
Waste360: Are there timelines or short-, middle- and long-term goals that you expect to achieve?
Our short-term goal is to establish a marketplace for e-waste between the informal sector and an e-waste recycler and make the materials available for clients, both existing and new. Our middle- and long-term goal will be to open the marketplace to include additional materials, informal sector partner and processors. Eventually we know that the operational infrastructure, digital capacity building and blockchain traceability can grow globally. Our vision is to connect the world to the informal sector with assurance…this partnership builds the framework to allow this vision to come to life.
Waste360: What opportunities will this collaboration provide for any future projects?
Maggio: Currently iWrc is working with both private and not for profit companies in Vietnam, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico. It is our hope that this partnership will pave the way for our framework to grow through a blockchain technology to guarantee the traceability of our assurance model and capacity building. We hope that the partnership with Empower will enable us to not only digitize our capacity building tools, but push them out to informal waste collectors globally. We believe that this type of framework can be used to guide the supply chain bringing a new level of assurance to the informal sector. Couple this with the ability to trace and verify the individuals withing the process, the verification of ethical sourcing, cost, materials and match them to the basic requirements of those that want to engage the marketplace.
Myrer: Empower is currently working with waste collectors and recyclers in more than 40 countries and helping to empower the waste collectors, making sure we create an inclusive, transparent and sustainable system. Working with iWrc we can introduce our solution in new regions and together with a partner that has a great reputation and already established networks and know-how of the local communities and differentiators. This way we can grow together and bring more and faster impact. Maybe the main difference of a circular vs a linear economy is the need for everyone to work together and unleash the value potential that comes with trust and efficiency instead of working in silos where a lot of resources are wasted.