Smart Solutions: Waste pickers to earn more from Recycling


A new startup plans to help waste pickers earn more by turning plastic waste into a more valuable product: 3-D printing filament, the plastic thread-like material that 3-D printers use instead of ink. Recycling plastic bottles into filament can help waste pickers increase their incomes by as much as 20 times.
The startup will launch in Dar es Salaam and plans to expand to other cities. Around the world, around 40 million waste pickers currently earn less than $2 a day for their work."This is born out of my experience working with social enterprises in Nairobi, Kenya—just seeing waste collectors, how they live, what they have to do for the plastic, and how they struggle to support their families," says Jasper Middendorp, founder of Reflow, the Amsterdam-based startup making the new recycled filament. "It started from seeing what are the ways we could help waste collectors improve their lives, and what are the high value products we could make.I just saw the huge disparity between what some of the poorest people get for the plastic, which is around seven cents a kilogram, to what filament costs, which is $25 a kilogram," he says. Making filament is a way to get much more value from the plastic than other recycled plastic products, while only using a small amount of material; 120 plastic bottles can produce a kilogram of filament.Reflow plans to work directly with waste pickers to collect plastic, clean and shred it, and use a low-cost extruder to turn it into a finished product. The quality, they say, will be the same as what someone can buy on the market now.The company is working on various models to pay waste pickers. "The value increase for them is around 20 times what they make now from the plastic they sell, but that's not the best way to go about impact—giving one waste picker 20 times as much as he makes now," says Middendorp. "So we're looking into finding ways to either prolong the impact—give them a sustained level of income—or spread it out over a larger group."They also plan to invest in local manufacturing resources, like 3-D printing and CNC milling, to support the growth of the local economy. -
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