Is Blockchain the Answer to Tackling the World’s pressing Waste Problem?
Monday February 11, 2019,
6 min Read
While the historic dips and rises of cryptocurrencies have been filling news headlines for the last few years, the focus is now shifting to the technology that powers cryptocurrencies – blockchains.
If you are a regular reader of my posts, then you would know that blockchains are virtual digital ledgers that store massive volumes of data. Unlike regular central data repositories, blockchain is open and is available to everyone. The biggest benefit of blockchain is that they are transparent and immutable. Meaning, the data available on it, cannot be hacked or changed.
Blockchains open up a world of possibilities. From driving massive financial systems to digital payment apps to tackling climate change – blockchain has the potential to transform all major industries.
One of the most interesting and unexpected applications of blockchain is tackling the world’s waste problem. Yes, you read that right. Something as advanced as blockchain can play a huge role in combating the mounting pressures of waste management. Here, in today’s post, we take a closer look at how blockchain can play a role in tackling waste.
The Exponential Increase in Waste
Despite massive campaigns and significant awareness, even today, tons and tons of waste end up going to landfills. Waste is everywhere – beaches, oceans, lakes, residential areas, mountains, and even outer space – waste is present in every nook and cranny of our planet.
Dealing with these massive tons of waste generated by individuals, businesses, and corporations is one of the most pressing issues of today. Earlier, developed nations used to transport their waste to other lesser developed nations. However, this is no longer possible, as several developing nations like China have imposed bans on importing plastic waste.
On the other end of the spectrum are a handful of countries like Sweden that have waste deficits. Sweden has an efficient system, where it generates energy from waste. These waste-to-energy plants in Sweden import waste materials from other nations.
How do Blockchains help in tackling Waste?
As mentioned above, blockchains are a sophisticated method of recording transactions. It consists of a chain of blocks, and each block holds transaction details like sale or transfer of assets. Tampering with the data in these blocks is impossible.
Quite a few innovative waste initiatives are trying to use the inherent benefits of blockchains to deal with the pressing global waste issue. Here’s a look at some of the innovative waste initiatives using blockchain that are currently being developed.
This is a global recycling project started in Canada. The project aims to reduce plastic waste generated in developing nations like the Philippines, Colombia, Peru, and Haiti, with further plans to expand to other countries in the coming years.
This project aims to motivate people to bring in plastic rubbish to recycling centres. One of the rewards offered to people for submitting plastic rubbish is digital tokens. These tokens can then be used to purchase phone plans, small food items and so on.
The plastic rubbish that is collected is sold to companies that recycle them into new consumer goods. One of the unique features of this project is that since it uses the blockchain, it’s easy for users to track investments.
Another innovative use of blockchain for waste management is being tested out by French rail. Traditionally, waste management in railway stations in France was a chaotic process, with several providers handling the process. A single station like the central station in Lyon generates over 360 tonnes of waste every year.
A new system is currently being tested out by Arep, a subsidiary of SNCF. This system uses blockchain technology to track the waste collected. Every waste bin in the station is considered as a block in the blockchain. The block is continually updated to reflect the type of waste, the waste managers who collected it and how the waste will be moved around.
Station managers can use this data to see whether waste collection service providers have collected the waste or not. This system if implemented can help to optimize waste management. In a pilot trial, this system was able to save around €2000 for one station in a single month, by streamlining the waste collection process.
Just like how carbon quotas are traded as part of the EU Emissions Trading System, waste quotas can be traded with the help of blockchain. This will help governments monitor the waste generated by different businesses, thereby helping to trade waste quotas.
The blockchain is just getting started, and over the next few years, you can expect significant advancements in this technology for tackling the waste problem.
One of the biggest gripes with current waste management solutions is that they only focus on handling waste after it has been thrown away. They don’t consider the entire lifecycle of products – right from production to becoming waste.
For an efficient waste management solution, we have to start from the very beginning. Companies that generated the products (which ultimately become waste) should be held responsible, along with other stakeholders in the supply chain.
There must be regulations and rules in place for companies to be held responsible for the waste they generate. Additionally, strict penalties must be implied on businesses that fail to meet these demands. While there are certain laws like the European Union’s extended producer responsibility, it’s difficult to enforce these rules.
Again, blockchain can play a crucial role here. When goods are produced, responsibility for the goods would be assigned to the manufacturers. This can be recorded in a block in the blockchain. This block would contain details about the responsible party and the product.
Every time the product changes hands or ends up in a landfill, this transaction would be recorded in the block. If the product ends up as litter, anywhere on the planet, it would be easy to identify the person responsible for the product, using the digital trail available on the blockchain.
While setting up such a system for every product produced on the planet may seem like a massive task, it is not impossible.
Closing Thoughts: Tackling Waste with Blockchains is a Smart Idea
It’s time that governments start addressing the massive waste problems facing us immediately. And, blockchain may be the solution that offers the breakthrough in the waste problem that has been challenging humankind for decades.
If you have any further queries on the applications of blockchains, shoot your questions to our team of blockchain experts, and we would love to help you out.