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TrashCash: A Filipino-Made Mobile App Rewarding Users For Their Plastic Wastes

TrashCash: A Filipino-Made Mobile App Rewarding Users For Their Plastic Wastes
Image from the Facebook page of Trash Cash PH

A 28-year-old software developer found a way to hack into the serious issue of climate change in the Philippines by designing a mobile application that would encourage more Filipinos and communities to properly dispose their plastic waste.

Software engineer and environmentalist Benjoe Vidal is the man behind TrashCash, a mobile app he developed with the help of his friends, which allows people to make money from their discarded plastics.

TrashCash is an artificial intelligence-driven solution Vidal offered to somehow address the lingering plastic pollution in the country. He wanted to help prevent these synthetic materials from getting into rivers that would later end up in oceans.

Vidal said the concept of recycling for profit through a mobile app was created to assist local communities in effectively dealing with their ongoing plastic waste problem, especially in tourist destinations.

As a traveler myself, and I'm also a hiker, ang dami kong nakikita na mga basura sa kapaligiran natin (I see a lot of trash around) and sobrang nakakasira talaga siya ng (it really destroys our) environment,” Vidal told The Philippine STAR / OneNews.PH in an online interview on July 7.

Doon nag-start yung idea na why not incentivize yung mga community to preventyung mga plastic o yung mga basurang kung saan-saan lang napupunta (That is how the idea started: why don’t we incentivize communities to prevent plastic and other trash from going everywhere?)” he added.

According to a 2021 study published in the Science Advances journal, more than a quarter of the rivers worldwide, accounting for 80% of ocean plastic pollution, are in the Philippines.

TrashCash aims to orient, educate, and spur Filipinos into knowing the value and impact of their garbage to the environment. To access its services, people need to download the application into their mobile phones.

The app works by allowing users to scan discarded plastic materials through their smartphones and collecting the items for proper segregation and disposal. The users may earn “trashpoints” once they deposit the collected materials to the nearest drop-off center.

The corresponding virtual reward points may be accumulated and later on redeemed either as a digital wallet credit or in exchange of grocery items and other products from the TrashCash trade partners.

Vidal said TrashCash intends to forge partnerships with local government units (LGUs) and officials from the barangay level to establish more drop-off locations for the plastic wastes collected by the app users.

The system would provide additional income for the participating LGUs as 60% of the gross revenue from sale of the collected recyclables will go to the local government, while the remaining 40% of the profits will go to TrashCash.

The startup company is using machine learning algorithms that can identify plastic materials and sort them into different categories once they are scanned. This enables the user to properly segregate the discarded items before disposing.  

TrashCash has divided its accepted recyclables into six different categories of plastics based on their chemical composition with specific examples:

• PET (polyethylene terephthalate) – soft drinks, sports drink and mineral water plastic bottles; vegetable oil bottles, mouthwash bottles, jelly jars

• HDPE (high-density polyethylene) - lotion and milk containers, juice bottles, yogurt tubs, bleach detergent bottles, motor oil bottles; soft drinks and mineral water bottle rings and caps

• LDPE (low-density polyethylene) - dry cleaning bags, bread bags, online shopping pouches, frozen food and grocery bags, squeezable and dispensing bottles, candy pouches

• PP (polypropelene) - microwaveable containers, syrup bottles, Yakult tubs, straws, dishware, baby milk bottles, some auto parts

• PS (polystyrene) - disposable plates, disposable cutlery, CD cases

• Other (miscellaneous plastic) - gas containers, water gallons, plastic lumber, headlight lenses, sachets, facial cleanser and shampoo containers

The basic idea of machine learning is when you scan the object, it will automatically identify specific types of plastic materials. So, through that technology, we want to help or to educate the user that this plastic must be segregated,” Vidal explained. 

TrashCash is working with the Clean Our Oceans Project, an organization that advocates marine conservation through responsible consumer behavior in communities, schools, and businesses, to sort out plastic materials collected by users at the barangay level.

After which, these recyclables will be brought to Sentinel UpCycling Technologies, which will transform the discarded plastics into new functional materials such as trash bins, crates, among other products.

While many local governments expressed interest on this initiative, Vidal admitted they are having a hard time processing all the requests they are getting from other LGUs, which slows down the implementation of their partnership with them.

At present, Barangay 69 in Tondo, Manila is the only community that has successfully adopted the TrashCash system. Vidal said their operations have been running quite smoothly here because of the availability of storage space in this area.

Iba-iba kasi per barangay eh. Merong barangay na (It is different per barangay. There are villages) where we can provide storage, like yung sa (the one in) Tondo, meron silang (they have) storage. Yung iba, wala, wala silang space (The others have no space),” he explained.

Although their system is already implemented in one barangay, the TrashCash founder recognized that improvements still need to be made, considering the feedback they received from the app users.

May mga need pa kaming i-improve sa app, like yung mga flaw, pero that is expected naman din. (There are things that we still need to improve on the app, like the flaws, but those are expected.) There is no perfect software [so] we have to [keep improving],” Vidal said.

He also expressed hope that more local governments would adopt and embrace the TrashCash app. Vidal said the success of their initiative will be determined if more people and communities are willing to help them on this mission to keep our environment clean.

Sila talaga yung pinaka-key feature namin. Kumbaga, sila yung mag-bridge sa community kasi sila yung pinakatutulong sa amin to implement doon sa mga barangay kasi kung kami lang, mahihirapan kami (They are a key feature. They will serve as our bridge to the community and will help us implement [our project] to the barangay level because if it is only up to us, we will have a hard time),” Vidal said, referring to the LGUs.

TrashCash was first conceptualized in 2019 when Vidal joined and later won in Impact Hub Manilas Impact Hackathon, an annual event for entrepreneurial ideas in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The app was released on Google Playstore in December 2020, but the company only started promoting it in February this year. The application for iOS is underway and may be launched later this year. In just about five months, TrashCash already has more than a thousand users.

Recently, TrashCash made it to the Top 18 innovators list of the United Nations Development Programme in its Ending Plastic Pollution Innovation Challenge 2021, along with other innovative companies from Indonesia, Singapore, and Vietnam.

Interested LGUs may reach TrashCash through its official website (https://trashcash.ph) and Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/trashcashph).