Trash Tech – how a mobile app for recycling, that doesn’t even require the user to have a phone, is helping waste pickers grow their income and their business

Over the last 18 months in Brazil, Vietnam and Mozambique, informal waste pickers have been using smartphone technology to coordinate the sale of recyclable waste, resulting in increased income for themselves and improved recycling rates in the cities where they operate.

There are an estimated 20+ million informal waste pickers in the world, living mostly in cities in developing markets, and usually earning far less than the minimum wage rate. These recycling professionals that have been collecting and recycling for decades, are now perfectly placed to rapidly respond to the anticipated global legislation changes of that UN Plastic Pollution Treaty that are expected to put more responsibility on producers to ensure their packaging does not end up polluting the environment.

By registering their collections in the KOLEKT app, the waste pickers are able to advertise waste for sale and sell to the highest bidder, or to predetermined buyers through organised projects. Those without a phone are also able to trade through the app by selling to registered buyers, who use face recognition to verify who they are buying from. The app also allows the payment of incentive fees directly to waste pickers for every kilo of recyclables sold, even if the waste pickers have no bank account, nor a smartphone.

To date the KOLEKT app has logged 15,000 transactions with 2800 users, trading 8 million KG of materials traded.

In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, teams of fishers, no longer earning a decent living through fishing, are using the app to verify a new catch of waste. With funding from the private sector, the fishers are allocated a target weight for the week and recover and record against it in the app, receiving regular payments in return. In the same city several informal waste cooperatives, which collect, sort and bale recyclable material collected throughout the city, are also using the app to manage their contracts, providing clients with improved reporting and transparency. Read more about this project.

In Vietnam, a Tetra Pak sponsored collection of used beverage cartons saw recycling rates of this notoriously difficult to recycle material improve dramatically, with waste pickers notified of the new demand and collection points through the app. The app is also now in use by a number of international schools in Ho Chi Minh City to monitor and record recycling rates, as part of their education programmes. Read more about this project.

In Africa, Mozambique’s only recycling operation is using the app to purchase post consumer waste from waste pickers in areas where there is no municipal collection in place. The model is being explored for roll-out to other Southern African countries through funding from the European Union Africa RISE (Reform for Investment and Sustainable Economies) programme. Read more about this project.

The KOLEKT app, was developed by Circular Action, a BVRio group company, and was specifically developed in consultation with waste pickers so that even the poorest and most disadvantaged waste picker could benefit from its features, and tap into the growing demand for verified recovery and recycling of waste materials, in particular by food and drink companies looking to meet new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation or their own internal targets.

The KOLEKT app, is one of several waste trading apps available, but is the only one to offer interaction with unbanked waste pickers with no smartphone; offering also multiple material types and global use, making it adaptable and usable for producers across multiple regions and of different materials at every level of the reverse logistics supply chain.

Visit for more information on KOLEKT.