Recycle-to-earn, a new frontier for blockchain technology toward ESG goals

Recycle-to-earn, a new frontier for blockchain technology toward ESG goals

“Recycle-to-earn”: This was the motto presented by Eric Vogel earlier this month while pitching his startup at the European Blockchain Convention, decades after he started recycling plastics and cans from his grandmother’s house to earn extra money for a Game Boy. 

Vogel’s love for video games and increasing interest in the impact of recycling were his inspirations for Circularr, a London-based company seeking to connect recyclers, manufacturers and brands throughout a decentralized recycling ecosystem.

Proper recycling is a growing challenge. According to the Plastic Waste Makers Index, recycling across the world is not expanding fast enough to keep up with plastic waste, resulting in greater chances of it being disposed of in oceans and rivers or on beaches rather than going to recycling plants. In 2021, over 139 million metric tons of single-use plastic waste were generated worldwide.

The nearly three-year-old startup is allowing consumers to deposit plastic waste at collection points, such as reverse vending machine manufacturers, recycling points and smart bins through partnerships. The containers are collected and sent to a recycling plant. This widely used process, however, is now powered by blockchain technology.


The plastic waste is rewarded with a deflationary utility token that can be used to swap for exclusive incentives and offers through a native wallet, like a free coffee or meal, or to mint nonfungible tokens with underlying data about recycled materials, such as its origin and type of plastic — providing an end-to-end traceability of the recycling process.

“Plastics from a specific event or venue could fetch an even higher price than a standard metric tonne of recycled plastic, as it would have all of the underlying data attached to it. So, brands and organizations could upcycle this plastic to produce limited edition kit or merchandise from key events,” Vogel told Cointelegraph, adding:

“By using blockchain technology, it becomes possible to create a digital trail that records every step of the recycling process, from the collection of waste to the sale of recycled materials.”

The concept earned Circularr’s team recognition as blockchain startup of the year at the European event. The startup also recently received a $50 million investment commitment from the alternative investment group GEM, providing liquidity and resources to pilot “Material Recycling Facilities.” 

Similar efforts have been seen in other areas related to environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives. Blockchain technology and automated systems are increasingly being utilized to improve the efficiency and accuracy of the carbon market, a critical component of the fight against climate change. Vogel also noted:

“Blockchain technology can help to address some of the challenges associated with recycling, such as the lack of trust between stakeholders and the difficulty in verifying the origin and quality of recycled materials.”

Circularr’s facilities and other collection points are planned to be deployed in train stations and freeway service stations across the United Kingdom, as well as subway stations and airports in the United States. Other partnerships with sports stadiums and events are also planned in countries in the Middle East and North Africa region. 

The startup’s upcoming efforts include the implementation of on- and off-ramps with partners to allow users to swap tokens for other cryptocurrencies and fiat money, as well as a track-and-tracing system planned for the second half of 2023.

Gamifying the recycling process is also one of the startup’s goals, targeting brands aiming to reward users with tokens and prizes for their recycled waste. “It all started with a Game Boy and a desire to make a difference,” said Vogel. “And now, here we are, working towards a better, more circular economy.”

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