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Value from waste

How our teams created an app to boost plastic waste recycling in South East Asia

Capgemini’s Keziah Quek explains how her team designed an app to ‘Uberize’ plastic waste recycling in South East Asia.

When a leading Malaysian recycling company reached out to Capgemini for a solution to increase the plastic coming to them for recycling, our team came up with a true innovation – and a great example of when vision combined with technology can make a massive difference to the world around us.

A lightbulb moment

For Keziah Quek, ecosystem and sustainability lead at Capgemini’s Applied Innovation Exchange, and project manager, it was one of those lightbulb moments that only occur a few times in a career. 
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, “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.”

Shaping the project

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.

“I was really excited by the breadth of this ambition,” says Keziah. “We realized it contained a very important insight: 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 the main 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.” 
One of the main obstacles, however, 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 – and with just a few taps,” explains Keziah. “For the collectors, the app would provide a steady stream of jobs and higher quality plastic, meaning they would have to scavenge less.”

The team generated feature ideas, with the technical team advising on what was possible – and working with the client to be practical and limit the number of app features that could conceivably be built within a few months. Other features were planned in future iterations. “We also strove to keep the design simple, using a ‘minimum viable product’ (MVP) approach, was also important to de-risk a digital solution like this,” says Keziah. “This enabled us to confirm our hypotheses, iron out any bugs, onboard users, and get feedback for the next iteration.”

Embedding gamification from the start

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,” says Keziah.

Aspects of gamification planned for the app specifically encourage certain interactions, she goes on to explain. “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, motivating 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 the 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

“A personal highlight for me was being able to co-create an innovative solution with the client along with Capgemini experts from various teams and regions, all of whom have different processes and styles of working,” says Keziah.

“COVID-19 forced us to build trust and alignment, while leaving room for creative problem-solving, using remote and virtual collaboration methods. The team pulled together very quickly thanks to our commitment towards building a pro-planet solution.

A shared goal

This project was a great example of collaboration – not only between internal teams and the client, but also involving experts from the wider ecosystem. Everyone worked together with one goal in mind: Bring the client’s vision – to improve the environment and support a circular economy – one step closer to reality.

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