HIGH-TECH TRACKING: Mpetha Mushoeshoe, a waste picker in Johannesburg, shows off an SMS he received from the BanQu recycling track and trace platform formally recording the volume and value of the recyclate he collected and was paid for. Among other benefits, the BanQu platform helps waste pickers keep a digital track of their income earned through sales to various buy-back centres. (Image: supplied)

Technology boost for SA’s recycling sector

INNOVATIVE technology to track, trace and record the trading in recyclable materials is being rolled out across South Africa. The move is set to empower recycling SMMEs, strengthen the value chain and promote the economic inclusion of the informal sector.

An innovative digital platform called BanQu will help buy-back centres accurately record and track their recycling transactions with waste pickers – as well as trace the origins of the recycling – while providing a real-time business management tool enabling them to better understand and manage their businesses.

South Africa’s PET plastic producer responsibility organisation (PRO), PETCO, is driving the rollout of the BanQu technology in a project called Up, which commenced in 2021 and is funded by The Coca-Cola Foundation.

Over the next year, the system will be rolled out to 100 buy-back centres identified by PETCO across the country, with 10 centres in Gauteng, Limpopo and the Western and Eastern Cape who are live and transacting on the system so far.

Once registered on the BanQu system, the buy-back centres can capture the quantity of recyclable material bought from waste pickers, as well as the price paid for it and where it was collected. This allows buy-back centres to know the quantity of all materials within their centres at any given time. The waste pickers, in turn, receive an SMS receipt for each transaction and can keep track digitally of their income earned through sales to various buy-back centres.

To date the 10 live centres have registered over 1 400 waste pickers on the BanQu system, and more than 2 350 tons of recyclable material worth more than R5.7 million have been recorded.

Another advantage of the system is that if, for example, there is a sudden decline in the number of boxes that are usually brought in, the buy-back centre can compare the numbers at a glance and try to establish what might have changed.

PETCO CEO Cheri Scholtz that because informal waste collection was based largely on cash transactions, the majority of the estimated 52 000 waste pickers in South Africa typically had no record of their earnings and so remained largely unbanked and unable to access the kinds of services available to those who were self-employed or had a record of employment in the formal sector.

The benefit of the technology was that both waste pickers and buy-back centres were able to build up permanent digital financial records, which could be used to access credit to grow their businesses.

BanQu founder and CEO Ashish Gadnis said BanQu used secure blockchain technology to track and trace recycled material across the recycling value chain, ensuring price transparency for both buyers and sellers.