Meet Empower, a Changemaker; How to tackle plastic waste using blockchain

Updated: Feb 19, 2020

Plastic by-products were found in 97% of blood and urine samples from 2,500 children tested between 2014 and 2017, according to a study by the German Environment Ministry and the Robert Koch Institute.

Jessica Cao, who has written this story.

The world is facing an unprecedented level of plastic waste. People are asking questions about the origin and whereabouts of their plastic waste. At the same time, developing countries are enforcing stricter regulations on imports of plastic waste across their borders.

Transparency, traceability and accountability are now more relevant than ever when it comes to the material that is choking our oceans.

Empower is thrilled to be selected for this year’s Changemakers Accelerator! We look forward to embarking on this journey with Ashoka, Nordea and Accenture as well as the other selected Social Entrepreneurs. We wanted to be a part of the accelerator because we see so much of ourselves in the Social Entrepreneurs that Ashoka supports.

Our journey started in February 2018, when Wilhelm and the co-founders came up with the idea of a digital deposit system for plastic waste, inspired by the existing Norwegian plastic bottle deposit scheme (with a whopping 97% recycling rate) to give plastic a value and incentivise collection of plastic waste on a global scale, especially in areas where there is no (functioning) waste management system.

Our digital infrastructure that connects all the plastic value chain stakeholders with transparency and traceability is something that we believe can contribute to changing the status quo. It’s an app, used by both local plastic collection centers and waste pickers, which should simplify the process and make it scalable: weighing of the plastic waste, scanning of the QR code, receiving digital tokens in the pickers’ individual e-wallets or exchanged into local currency.

By rewarding the act of depositing plastic, Empower, incentivizes plastic waste collection in areas of great need and helps local communities overcome poverty by providing income opportunities. The use of a decentralised new technology like blockchain makes the transactions more secure and transparent for the sponsors. Individuals, businesses or governments can see exactly how much plastic, when and where, they have contributed to cleaning up.

Our vision is to create a digital ecosystem where plastic waste is ensured to end up where it has value. We are currently piloting a waste tracking system with corporate partners to track plastic waste throughout the supply chain with transparency and traceability, providing secure data about the journey and origin. There is a willingness from the private sector to buy traceable social recycled plastic to comply to stricter Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) regulations. Our tracking system, accompanied by a marketplace platform for social plastic, aims to be the sustainable mechanism paving the way for a circular economy where plastic retains its value throughout various life cycles.

We have got incredible traction for our start-up, both from individuals eager to fund clean-ups of plastic waste through, corporate partners who want to offset their plastic footprint through impactful actions, or to use our waste tracking platform to ensure the traceability of the plastic in their supply chain. Governments have expressed interest in piloting our solution in the local communities after seeing how quickly it can be deployed. We are selected as one of 25 projects to be highlighted at Expo 2020 Dubai’s Global Best Practice Programme where millions of visitors are coming through from October 2020 to April 2021. As such, Empower, is in a privileged position to showcase both our direct and indirect impact.

Therefore, working with leading social innovation experts from the Changemakers Accelerator who understand the needs and challenges of Social Entrepreneurs is something that Empower can definitely benefit from at this point in our growth journey. We are ready to scale our impact and transform our potential into systems change.

And of course, we hope that Empower will be a part of the successful stories of Changemakers catapulting systemic changes. So, join our plastic waste movement and our journey as a Changemaker!

Jessica Cao,