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Applying Blockchain Principles to Waste Management

With Bitcoin surging and other cryptocurrencies on the rise, blockchain is once again making rounds in the news (though it definitely helps that anyone can “post” news in this day and age).

Underpinning Bitcoin, Etherium, and others, blockchain is a distributed method of storing and validating data. While the technological specifics are outside the scope of this piece, this article does a good job of explaining it for those of us who aren’t particularly tech savvy.

As mentioned above, blockchain is essentially a distributed method of storing and validating data. Rather hosting data on a central server (as it is in most cases on the internet), blockchain hosts data on every device in the network that accesses it. From a security and data management perspective, this is great since there is no centralized storage at risk of corruption.

So basically, the principle underlying blockchain is the distribution of storage across a network of users.

We’ve seen this principle applied far beyond digital currency, however. Uber, as a decentralized distribution of drivers, removes the need for centralized car ownership (ie, the one in your garage). Same with Airbnb, Instacart, and others in the sharing economy.

A Wasted Opportunity?

While land is plentiful in America, the same cannot be said about a large portion of the industrialized world. Germany has a notoriously complex waste management system. See the image of trash cans below? That small black bin is all that residents are allocated for “general waste” — for two weeks.

So while nations with plentiful land can deposit waste in ever-expanding landfills, others do not have that luxury.

The Dangers of Centralized Waste

When large landfills reach capacity, they are covered with clay and layers of plastic shields. These layers are designed to prevent quick, oxygen-driven decomposition reactions. But the lack of oxygen in full landfills opens the door for another (albeit slower) decomposition reaction, whose byproduct is methane.

Methane is 21x more effective than carbon dioxide at preventing infrared radiation from escaping the planet. In other words, it’s more than 20x more potent when it comes to creating the “greenhouse effect” that drives planetary climate change.

While methane is the largest gaseous byproduct of centralized landfills, potentially hazardous liquids (dubbed “leachate”) seep from trash into the local groundwater — groundwater that fuels the growth our crops and feeds into the rivers we pull tap water from.

Centralized waste creates a concentrated mass of potentially hazardous materials that would not be as damaging if they were dilute.

Waste Reduction Efforts are Not Enough

The current state of waste management is clearly suboptimal. And while the most promising solution involves decreasing the quantity of waste produced, years of public and private campaigns have done little to stem the tide. The World Bank estimates that the amount of municipal solid waste created annually will almost double by 2025.

While we continue our valiant (if impotent) efforts to decrease waste, we should also consider changing the way waste is managed.

Applying Distribution Theories to Waste Management

So how can we apply some of the most promising new digital-economic principles to one of the world’s most stubborn problems?

Waste sharing.

At its core, waste sharing would involve the distribution of waste across a municipality’s membership.

Rather than allocating residents a “waste allowance,” they should be incentivized to take on a “waste quota.”

Most house-owning individuals are familiar with the concept of a “junk drawer” — a location where generalized knick-knacks are stored when there is no more orderly storage alternative. It is not too much of a stretch to expand the notion of a “junk drawer” to that of a “junk floor.”

Distributing waste in this way would not only allow it to decompose more quickly, it would also create valuable fertilizer for urban farming initiatives. In nations like China, where the amount of arable land shrinks by the day, this would provide a powerful alternative to traditional farming strategies.

Incentivizing Waste Sharing

Bitcoin’s success is due largely to the immense quantity of devices on its network. Each device is incentivized to remain on the blockchain (and part of the network) with regimented payouts of newly minted Bitcoin. Due to the potentially disagreeable nature of waste sharing (at least in its early stages), it is critical that members of the waste sharing network are properly incentivized to remain a part of it.

The incentivization of waste-sharing is threefold:

1) The creation of high-quality fertilizer.

As mentioned above, fertilizer is a valuable byproduct of shared and distributed waste.

2) Membership in a new social contract.

Waste sharing initiatives should be framed in such a way that members are proud and feel an emotional connection to their participation in building a cleaner Earth.

3) Association with high society.

While the creation of high-quality fertilizer would provide sufficient incentive for many residents, a substantial minority would likely find the offensive smell an unequal trade. So while it is likely that the odorous environment would propel massive innovation in the odor-management space; let us assume for argument’s sake that Febreeze, in its current state, is the pinnacle of odor management and no further advancements are possible.

Those of wealth and privilege have a propensity for environmental action, as they have more time to focus on activities not related to providing for their basic needs (food, clean water, shelter, etc). Coupled with their existing and expansive property ownership, participation in waste sharing might easily become a mark of high society and emulated. (I mean “wealthy” here in global terms — ie, most Americans with running water might be considered “wealthy”, as their basic needs have been more or less met.)

Waste Delivery

Since waste production is not equal across all members of a municipality, it will be necessary to provide waste transportation to and from areas of abundance and scarcity. But as the distribution of waste becomes reality, funds from traditional waste collection sources (which would now be rendered obsolete) can be allocated as incentives for those engaging in the ride and vehicle-sharing economy. And it would not be out of the realm of possibility for ride-sharing organizations to incorporate this into their business model in return for leniency in pending lawsuits.

A waste based Token will maximize the opportunity in blockchain ethereum technology. It will provide a unique opportunity for all parties to truly transform the Natural Capital Asset market, by creating a Natural Asset Marketplace that enables all stakeholders in the climate value chain to participate in it.

Waste tokens, what are they?

Waste Token is a revenue-generating cryptocurrency developed on the basis of the Ethereum Blockchain as an ERC20 token. It may allow the stakeholeders to generate revenue through transaction fees and sales of environmental sustainable services to buyers on the Natural Capital Assets Exchange blockchain platform. The Earth token holders are paid these receipts into their wallet every week. These revenues are generated is in the form of bitcoin / ethers and the other supported cryptocurrencies that are generated by through the payment system and crypto exchanger.

The goal can be to combine the strengths of Blockchain and Cryptocurrency with years of experience creating Environmental Sustainability Solutions to establish a global Natural Asset Marketplace that removes current barriers to participation in activities that preserve our Environment, while providing all stakeholders with tangible assets that appreciate in value as the market matures and grows.

The Natural Capital Asset Exchange blockchain platform and waste Token will accelerate global Environmental Sustainability efforts and transform the $120 Trillion Natural Capital Asset Market by allowing the market to grow organically and achieve its massive potential.

How does Waste Token work?

Waste Token is a cryptocurrency used as a medium of exchange. What is being given in exchange for Earth Token is Environmental Sustainability services and technologies. The platform on which all Waste Token related transactions will take place is the Natural Capital Assets Exchange blockchain platform.

Stakeholders who include both investors and partners will invest into the token . While stakeholders are involved in buying and selling environmental sustainable technologies, partners make sure that the platform on which buyers and sellers meet is free of fraud, prices are flexible for buyers and very good services are provided to everyone’s’ satisfaction.

Unlike in conventional businesses where registering a new business can cost a quite bit of money, Natural Capital Assets Exchange blockchain platform will allow environmentalists and other sellers to do this without any cost. Moreover, government polices and regulation that affects conventional businesses is not able to affect transactions on this platform.

What problems is solved ?

  1. Carbon Mitigation

Organizations of all sizes compensate for the negative environmental impacts of their business operations . This platform and business model allow clients to identify and share environmental impacts and mitigation efforts against specific activities related to delivering products or providing services. Once the mitigation mechanism and associated costs have been determined, the platform solutions enable clients to engage their customers in their business

2. Climate Neutral Fuels

Neutral Fuel Solutions Climate is a turnkey approach to fuel management that improves the operational efficiency of internal combustion equipment, such as vehicles, generators and other assets that are important to businesses and industries. Customers typically experience clean financial gain by implementing Climate Neutral Fuel solution to produce savings that they can use to fund additional environmental conservation efforts.

3. Waste for energy

From Waste-to-energy is the process of generating energy from primary waste materials by creating synthetic fuels from these materials and using those fuels to create energy. In conjunction with strategic business partners, the platform provides gasification plants that are capable of converting carbon-containing raw materials such as solid waste biomass, coal or city into synthetic gas (Syngas).

The solutions described above serve to drive demand for natural assets through the provision of environmental sustainability solutions, our technology enables our clients to address climate change adaptation, and create differentiated values ​​that help them build brand equity and increase market share.

Growth in population and change in lifestyles has led to increase in waste generation. Municipal solid waste includes residential and commercial wastes generated in city areas in either solid or semi-solid form including bio-medical wastes. Safe and cost-effective management of municipal solid waste is a significant social, environmental and health challenge for modern society.

Cities alone generate millions of tonnes of solid waste a year. It is estimated that up to 40 per cent of municipal waste remains uncollected. A large number of cities do not have any processing facilities which mean that the municipalities tend to haphazardly dump wastes all over the landfills. Lack of storage and collection facilities, segregation of waste, pollution and contamination due to dumping of garbage on roads, open transportation in trucks, space constraints with landfills, social and environmental issues associated with landfills and lack of reusable and recyclables are the key issues in solid waste management.

Mission is to improve solid waste management practices leveraging modern technologies, eliminate open defecation and manual scavenging by providing toilet facility, capacity augmentation of ULBs, involving private sector, bring behavior change and social change.

While the Government is committed to building millions of toilets to eliminate open defecation, technology plays an important role in improving solid waste management, sanitation and citizen communication/awareness.

Technology can provide visibility on city sanitation & solid waste management, route planning for garbage collection, resource optimisation, efficient asset management, efficient maintenance, visibility of waste bins, air quality measurements etc.

Some of the key technologies relevant to achieve objectives of Swachh Bharat Mission includes:

* Online platforms: Online platforms provide options and alternatives to the user to look into reusing old stuff. The existing user is also encouraged to look for options to sell and regain value from the product before discarding the product as waste.

* Analytics: Accurate projections on total waste generated, waste type and identification of high waste generation areas enable effective planning and management of solid waste management services. Use of analytics during events with large citizen involvement such as festivals and fairs can ensure smooth collection and transport of waste

* Crowd-sourcing: Citizens can be encouraged to report (web/mobile/social channels) waste-related activities which need urgent attention from the authorities.

* Sensor-based waste collection: Sensor-based waste bins to identify status of waste bins if it is empty or filled so as to customise the waste collection schedule accordingly and save costs

* Automated waste collection system: Automated Waste Collection System (ACS) is a long-term solution and can take care the conventional methods like door-to-door, curb-side, block, community bins collections and transportation via chute system from high rise buildings with waste sucked though pipes and minimal human intervention

* GPS devices and sensors on waste truck: GPS technology to route the waste collection trucks to optimise the collection efficiency and ensure contractors dump waste in designated places. It will also give a clear picture of waste generated per ward

* Sensor-based sorting: Sorting waste material with the use of sensor technology helps in smart sorting. The sensor technology can recognise materials based on their visible spectrum or colour with infrared/ultraviolet spectra or based on their specific and unique spectral properties of reflected light, or atomic density or conductivity/permeability or atomic characteristics

* Pollution sensors: Leverage the pollution sensors to gauge pollution levels at landfills

* Energy simulation (waste to energy): Use of energy simulation software and analytics can provide accurate projections of waste generation and energy production from waste

* Analytics-based landfill management: Accurate waste generation and collection projections along-with break-up of type of waste can enable smart landfill management

The mission objectives will require a huge social change and change in the way cities handles waste & sanitation.

Technology will become the key enabler in improving efficiency & capacity of city services to improve waste & sanitation value chain.

Technology will also enable real time governance & control of waste and sanitation value chain .

Plastics Accountability: Blockchain Lifecycle Information Platform

By leveraging blockchain, sensor, and barcode technologies, the tracking of small and large plastics can be made effortless and transparent

Summary

Have you ever wondered why there are such significant gaps of information in a product’s lifecycle? Every person and institution in today’s world relies on trusted information. Our personal choices, business decisions, and public policy are all based on the information available to us. Which is why the information platform that waste management depends on needs to be consciously designed for transparency. End-of-life has traditionally been the toughest phase to acquire data on. This has been the case for larger plastic items, but it is even more difficult for small-format plastics. Individually, products such as cup lids, straws, bottle caps, and tear-off condiment containers have rarely been tracked or accounted for. However, with current technologies available locally in many regions, small and large format plastics could be accounted for. The specific technologies are blockchain ledgers, smart contracts, sensors, and passive RFID tags. Microsoft and Mojix already have announced a blockchain project for supply chain management. The blockchain being proposed here would be developed with the principal intent of product life cycle analysis and waste diversion.

Blockchain & Plastics Accounting

For decades, when plastics were produced and entered the market, there was a loss of information and ability to track what happens with them. On a more granular level, small-format plastics are even harder to track. As stated above, blockchain technology seems to have a strong potential for application to supply chains, and by extension, product life cycles. In simple terms, blockchain is a distributed database with an ongoing list of digital records called “blocks” that can’t be modified or revised once recorded. It is important to note that the recording itself is an automated process as well. Much of what blockchain provides is privacy, fraud prevention, interoperability in data formats, record access management, and anonymity. Most importantly, blockchain provides transactional-level big data that allows for granular analysis of plastic flows, which is currently unavailable. This can be achieved with smart profiling, or in this context, a Plastic ID.

Plastic IDs

At the intersection of blockchain and plastics is a series of information transactions. Together, these form a unique Plastic ID. All that would be required for such an ID is the use of a UPC barcode or passive RFID technology. Each time the plastic moves into the next phase of its lifecycle, it will change owners until reclamation by public or private waste management providers. Each one of these transactions is publicly recorded, allowing communities and analysts to look into where plastic is currently concentrated. These transactions can be made in an effortless manner thanks to smart contracts. The assignment of an ID could be for a bulk order or for each unit. Plastic ID integrated with the total life cycle would provide behavioral analytics of users and organizations through which plastics flow.

Sensors & Reclamation Points

In public areas and at points of consumption, low-cost sensor-enhanced bins could scan for the Plastic IDs or the type of plastic reclaimed from a user. Once reclaimed, the plastic can then cycle back to the ownership of the producer, who could be identified thanks to the blockchain platform and the Plastic IDs within it. This could build on top of other reclamation ideas proposed.

Incentivization

Incentivization will require engagement from the government with both the private sector and the community. The most important actor here is the government, who will be the main driver of incentivizing businesses and communities for such a system. Government’s principle driver is the preservation of community and public capital. Often, governments are restrained financially, which presents an opportunity for multi-partisan support on certain issues. For the Plastics Accountability Information Platform, the incentive for the government should be cost reductions for landfill maintenance and open data for new public-private partnerships. By emphasizing savings on a local, state, or federal level, it allows for more discretionary spending for government agencies overall.

For businesses, the incentives come in many forms, including brand resonance, reduced costs of plastic-based items, or new revenue streams. An example would be a small bakery that has worked out an arrangement with the plastics producer to collect in-store small-format plastics in specified bins with payouts based on the volume reclaimed. The blockchain allows for clear insight for both primary parties and third parties such as government, waste authorities, and communities.

Geographical Context

We chose to address Puerto Rico as our region for several reasons. First and foremost, our company, Isla Innovations, has roots in Puerto Rico. As an island, we have limited resources, and the environmental impact of our linear economy is more apparent and its implications are more imminent than in the Continental United States, where more space is available for waste, and raw materials and products can be trucked in (and waste trucked out) overnight. According to the EPA (Solid Waste in Puerto Rico, 2010), “Puerto Rico residents generate more waste than people living on the mainland, and recycling rates in the Commonwealth are lower. Much of Puerto Rico’s solid waste ends up in one of island’s 32 landfills, most of which do not comply with Commonwealth and federal landfill requirements.” Puerto Rico relies solely on municipality-controlled landfills for waste disposal, and with over 4 million tons of solid waste generated per year, waste has a significant impact on our economy, our environment, and our lives. In fact, in by 2020, it is expected that there will only be 4 landfills in operation (compared to 32 in 2010). In addition, low landfill tipping fees encourage irresponsible recycling and waste disposal habits, and the lack of appropriate funding streams for waste management infrastructure add to our long-term concerns. With a recycling rate of only 10% (in 2007), our waste management system is dire. (Autoridad de Desperdicious Solidos, Solid Waste Management in Puerto Rico: Realities, Facts, and Figures, Feb. 2010).

With such a low participation rate in recycling, the design of products and services must be inherently sustainable until policy and system solutions can be developed to nudge people to adopt more sustainable habits. This is already happening in Cabo Rojo, where the Orange Initiative (Iniciativa Naranja) has been implemented to financially incentivize recycling.

While the policies are developed across the island for better recycling habits, people also need information dashboards that show progress towards zero-waste. It is for these reasons that developing more information platforms, such as this Blockchain Lifecycle Information Platform, will help contribute to Puerto Rico’s adoption of circular economy principles.

Idea Title

Reclaim Analytics: Blockchain Lifecycle Information Platform

Company / Organization Name

How does this Idea redesign unrecyclable small format plastic items that often end up as waste?

Small-format plastics could be labeled (barcode/RFID) separately from large-format plastics, while both could be tracked along their entire lifecycle. If, for example, consumers at a restaurant did not pre-sort small format plastics at the point of consumption, the sensor-enabled reclamation bins would detect this as it scanned multiple labels for one item. The unique identifiers for small-format plastics would be updated automatically across the entire network with their location.

Which use cases does your Idea apply to?

Case 2 (bottle caps and tear-off containers), Case 3 (straws and take-away lids), and potentially Case 1 (single-use sachets) and tear-off lids (from Case 2). It can be applied to larger plastic items as well.

In what geographical context or area does your Idea plan to operate / solve?

We chose to address Puerto Rico due to low recycling rates and limited waste management infrastructure. In addition, Isla Innovations has roots in Puerto Rico.

How do you envision scaling up your Idea?

We plan to initially implement this concept as a pilot program in the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) at the Mayagüez campus and then other UPR campuses, with the intent of scaling for the city of San Juan, Puerto Rico and throughout the island at major restaurant franchises, mall food courts, cafeterias, and individual restaurants. Then, further scaling can be done nationally in the Continental United States (and eventually globally). Thankfully, blockchain technology can be scaled to any size.

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Research & Early Testing: You are exploring an idea, gathering inspiration and information needed to test it with real users.

Please describe how becoming a Top Idea and working with the Think Beyond Plastics Accelerator Program will help to accelerate your solution.

Through the New Plastics Economy Accelerator Program, we can validate the system design and make improvements with the goal to decrease plastics leakage into the environment and retain economic value of plastic in the economy. This includes engaging experts in the recycling industry to understand the constraints around recyclability, public administration to identify potential business structure and incentives, and other innovators who have implemented and studied similar systems in the past.

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

This idea was inspired by examining the life cycle of small-format plastics and the gaps of missing data. The need for better data led to examining the blockchain features and the current efforts to integrate it in the finance, healthcare, and manufacturing sectors. We came to the conclusion that blockchain could be used for social impact and sustainability efforts.

The goal is to address the inefficient sorting issue, which seems to be the main barrier to the recyclability of small plastics.

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