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Our involvement in a project to ‘Uberize’ plastic waste recycling in South East Asia
How can we design an app to ‘Uberize’ plastic waste recycling in Malaysia, and roll it out across Southeast Asia – without the traditional, linear ‘take, make, dispose’ model of consumption? That was the challenge given to us by Heng Hiap Industries, a plastics recycling company based in Malaysia, when they asked us to help digitize their plastic collection processes.
Heng Hiap Industries receives waste plastic from 28,000 individual recyclers in the region. The company converts the material into a high-performance resin before selling it to clients that include top South Korean appliance manufacturers, and Japanese automotive companies. The demand for quality recycled plastic is so high that Heng Hiap Industries was struggling to keep pace. Previously, it had purchased waste plastic from informal collectors near the factory. However, this process was manual, complex, and involved pen and paper transactions, and in-person negotiation. Heng Hiap Industries wanted to leverage the possibilities offered by digital transformation in the waste sector to simplify and digitize this process, while seizing other opportunities to enable ‘smart’ recycling – thereby increasing the value of recycled plastic through the supply chain.
Capgemini worked closely with Heng Hiap Industries to develop a five-year strategy to make this goal a reality. One of the key elements is an app that allows consumers to book a pickup of their plastic recyclables from their doorstep in just a few clicks. The collectors benefit because it gives them a new stream of plastic to collect and sell, leading to more revenue – while enabling digital payments.
Work on the project exceeded expectations, even during the COVID-19 pandemic, to such an extent that Heng Hiap Industries extended its collection infrastructure beyond informal collectors, grassroot recyclers, and kerbside scavengers, all the way to the household level. Kian Hoe Seah, founder and managing director, explains how the project sits within the long-term aims of the business. “Our aspiration is to enable an advanced plastic recycling industry in South East Asia, starting with Malaysia. Our smart recycling model is adapted to suit the fragmented informal industrial chain currently in place.”
While the app makes collections easier, Kian says, it’s also designed to motivate people to recycle more through gamification and incentivization. “Consumers have become more aware of the issue of plastic pollution, particularly in the oceans, and want to do their bit to help the environment. These eco-conscious individuals are rejecting unsustainable, single-use plastic, and are demanding products that use recycled materials.”
“Keeping plastic out of the ground requires a technological solution involving the consolidation and streamlining of industry processes and incentives,” explains Keziah Quek, innovation lead at Capgemini’s Applied Innovation Exchange, who was involved in the project.
“However, the genius in Heng Hiap Industries’ strategy is that it recognizes the true driving force of a circular economy: making it simple for environmentally conscious consumers to choose pro-planet behaviors that align with their values, and to be rewarded for recycling.”
Throughout the collaboration, Capgemini applied design-based thinking, with a sharp focus on the factors that would make the project a success: leveraging ethical consumers to drive the demand for recycled plastics, making the solution attractive to both collectors and consumers, and helping top consumer brands meet their sustainability commitments.
Through this project, Heng Hiap Industries and Capgemini are developing and strengthening a ‘circular’ model of plastic recycling in the region that rejects the traditional linear ‘take, make, dispose’ model of consumption. Partly, this is driven by increased pressure on companies from consumers to use more recycled plastic, as Kian explains: “Global brands are looking for high-quality recycled plastic with high standards of compliance, traceability, and transparency. More than 70 top brands, including Unilever and Nestlé, have made public pledges to use 25% of recycled content by 2025.”
The Heng Hiap Industries app contributes to the creation of a ‘circular’ material loop: Consumers buy plastic products, use them, then arrange for them to be recycled through the app. Heng Hiap Industries turns the waste plastic into a resin, and sells it back to brands for use in their products. Brands buy the material, referencing the traceability data provided by the app to guarantee material provenance, before turning it into new products. Consumers buy the products from shops… and the circle continues.
“Capgemini is a believer in digitalization and sustainability,” says Kian. “When they come together, magic happens, and this is why we chose to partner with Capgemini.” By working together, Heng Hiap Industries and Capgemini have been able to shape the future of plastic recycling in South East Asia, helping the environment – while contributing to the growth of a circular model.
Sarah Gonçalves wasn’t always a data engineer. She began her career as an archaeologist, unearthing the secrets of the past in sites across France before retraining as a data engineer. She brings the same curiosity to her new vocation at Capgemini, using artificial intelligence (AI) to uncover what lies beneath the surface.
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