Value from waste

Creating an app to boost plastic recycling

Keziah Quek explains how her Capgemini team rose to the occasion to design an app that would ‘Uberize’ plastic waste recycling in Southeast Asia

For Keziah Quek it was one of those lightbulb moments that only occur a few times in a career – when the vision meets the technology that makes the difference.

Malaysian recycling company Heng Hiap Industries had just shared with Capgemini its idea to ‘Uberize’ plastic waste collection in the region, transforming local services through applied innovation.

“My first reaction was ‘wow!’”, says Keziah, ecosystem and sustainability lead at Capgemini Applied Innovation Exchange and project manager. “We saw immediately how this idea could make an impact.”
And the best part?“
We knew our client wasn’t a recent entrant into this field. This was the CEO of a plastics recycling company that had the scale, the expertise and the market position to reshape the whole industry.”

How the project shaped up

Keziah and the team quickly got up to speed. “The client informed us that informal plastic waste recycling in the region was facilitated mostly by individual collectors through pen-and-paper, person-to-person transactions. Our goal was to increase the quality and the yield of the plastic that comes to our client to be processed.”

With this came a vision to create a truly ‘circular’ economy for plastic in which the material stays out of the ground and is continuously re-used, eliminating waste and pollution of the environment.

“I was really excited by the breadth of this ambition,” says Keziah. “And we realised it contained a very important insight: in order to drive demand for a circular economy, you need to engage environmentally conscious consumers.”

Scoping the solution

Based on interviews with the key stakeholders, the team identified key challenges. “We knew an app was part of the solution because most of the informal plastic collectors own smartphones, and of course, eco-conscious consumers are very at home with apps.”

According to Keziah, one of the main obstacles preventing these consumers from acting on their values was that recycling can be a less-than-straightforward activity: they didn’t know where the plastic they recycled went, and weren’t able to see the impact of their efforts.

“Our app needed to give consumers a way of making pro-planet choices conveniently with just a few taps. For the collectors, the app would provide a steady stream of jobs and higher quality plastic, meaning they would have to scavenge less.”

Keep it simple

The team generated feature ideas, with the technical team advising on what was possible. “We worked with the client to be ruthlessly practical and limit the number of app features we could conceivably build within a few months. They then added other features in later planned iterations.”

And what is the value of keeping the design simple? “Using a ‘minimum viable product’ (MVP) approach is all about de-risking a digital solution like this,” says Keziah. “You do it to confirm your hypotheses, iron out any bugs, onboard users and get feedback for the next iteration.”

Gamified by design

The team invited Marigo Raftopoulos, who has a PhD in gamification and advises consultancies, start-ups and universities on the fundamentals and strategies of gamification, to consult on the project.

“I really enjoyed involving Marigo in this project, because she taught us how to embed gamification from the start. It really involves understanding the psychology and motivation of the users. For example, eco-conscious customers might be driven by a desire to be public about their pro-planet values and want to share their impact on social media, while earning badges and points.”

Aspects of gamification planned for the app specifically encourage certain interactions, explains Keziah. “When the consumer passes the plastic to the collector, the collector will use the app to review the quality of the materials. This assessment informs how many points the consumer gets, which should motivate consumers to give the collectors better quality plastic.”

Also, the app will make it easier for eco-conscious consumers to see the benefits of their actions. “In future, we would love to be able to show users that the plastic they recycled has been turned into an everyday object, like a chair or a plant pot.”

Overcoming challenges

Although the project has progressed remarkably smoothly, Keziah says it was challenging at first to synchronise all the experts and diverse teams Capgemini pulled together from across various regions for this unique project.

“A personal highlight for me was to co-create an innovative solution with the client along with Capgemini experts from various teams who have different processes and styles of working,” says Keziah. “COVID-19 forced us to build trust and alignment, while holding space for creative problem solving, using remote and virtual collaboration methods. However, the team pulled together very quickly due to our excitement and commitment about building a pro-planet solution.”

By collaborating in this way, the Capgemini team worked closely with experts from the wider ecosystem to bring the client’s vision – to improve the environment and support a circular economy – one step closer to reality.

Plastic pioneers

If everyone makes a small, individual contribution, we can change things