In a major boost for the local recycling sector, Coca-Cola in South Africa and BanQu have rolled out an innovative payment platform to financially empower informal waste reclaimers and buy-back centres.

“Waste reclaimers who collect waste packaging perform one of the toughest, yet most important jobs in the circular economy and up until now, they have remained mostly invisible and unbanked,” says David Drew, director of sustainability for Africa at Coca-Cola Africa. “This innovative block-chain based solution provides a platform to financially empower waste reclaimers and small buy-back centres across South Africa.”

More than 60 000 waste reclaimers in South Africa earn a living by collecting packaging waste, many of whom are unable to find work or formal employment. Much of what reclaimers collect is sold through small buy-back centres before ultimately reaching large recyclers.

BanQu creates a permanent, personal record of the transactions for each waste picker, enabling them to demonstrate their earnings in order to access credit. It also enables cashless transactions that reduce the risk associated with cash to both reclaimers and buy-back centres and enables direct financial support for waste reclaimers. By recording the contribution of the informal sector as a whole to the recycling value chain, the platform improves both understanding and recognition of the important contribution of waste reclaimers and buy-back centres.

Coca-Cola selected BanQu as a partner based on the impact they have achieved to date and their track record with working with small scale farmers across Africa.

Since the launch in mid-February the system has already registered over 300 waste pickers and recorded over 4 900 transactions totalling over 200 000kg of recyclables.

BanQu CEO, Ashish Gadnis explains how the platform helps both individual waste reclaimers as well as small buy-back centres: “BanQu’s online automated supply chain tracking and payment system uses blockchain technology to track and trace recycled material across the value chain, providing price transparency for both buyers and sellers. Reclaimers don’t require expensive smart phones – the system sends a simple SMS when a payment is processed.”

The payments solution is also fully integrated with mobile money applications, enabling reclaimers to withdraw cash from ATMs or store their earnings in secure e-wallets. Most importantly, the new technology enables waste reclaimers to develop a financial record and promotes their financial inclusion into the economy.

Waste reclaimers are able to build a financial history, an economic passport that validates their existence in a global supply chain. The platform enables a traceable, transparent and, most importantly, equitable value chain that empowers waste reclaimers as well as buy-back centres.

For small buy-back centres – many of them operating in township areas – BanQu enables owners to better understand their businesses using automated recording and tracking of transactions. Geolocation capabilities provide valuable data in realtime about types of materials collected in particular areas.

For brand owners such as Coca-Cola, the platform provides a useful tool as the company supports and empowers waste reclaimers and meets its World Without Waste targets to collect and recycle a bottle or can for each one it sells by 2030.

“From a sustainability perspective, this is a very exciting and innovative technology that not only benefits those working in the recycling value chain, but is a step change in our collective understanding and our ability to support this critical part of the circular economy,” says Drew.

The rollout builds on BanQu’s successes in other African countries and in Latin America.

“BanQu is deeply rooted in a simple fact that millions of the poorest work tirelessly in our landfills, recycling centres and our streets and they deserve a better future. We are thrilled with this partnership and looking forward to scaling it,” says Gadnis.