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Turning trash into tokens: blockchain’s answer to waste

The UAE alone generates over 6.5 million tonnes of waste a year, more than three quarters of which ends up in landfills Yalla/Supplied
The UAE alone generates over 6.5 million tonnes of waste a year, more than three quarters of which ends up in landfills
  • Global annual waste up 73% by 2050
  • More than 75% of UAE waste goes to landfill
  • Yalla Return app uses blockchain incentive

Trash, garbage, detritus. Whatever you call it, the waste management industry around the world faces a huge challenge as it must handle a substantial and growing volume of rubbish.

In 2020, according to the World Bank, the world generated 2.24 billion tonnes of solid waste, amounting to a footprint of 0.79 kg per person per day.

With the rapid growth in population and urbanisation, global annual waste is expected to increase by 73 percent from 2020 to 3.88 billion tonnes in 2050.

The UAE alone generates over 6.5 million tonnes of waste annually, according to research by Ajman University. More than three quarters of it ends up in landfill.

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Addressing this issue requires a significant boost in recycling efforts, but this is hindered by challenges such as consumer confusion and a lack of financial incentives. 

Existing initiatives, often in the form of bottle deposit fees, struggle to keep pace with usage. There is little accountability within waste management networks because consumers are unable to track what they believe is being recycled.

To tackle these issues, companies are building platforms that use blockchain technology – a method of recording information that makes it impossible or difficult for a system to be changed, hacked or manipulated.

Nadeera Technologies, which was founded in Lebanon but is now based in Abu Dhabi, has introduced Yalla Return to the UAE, a waste traceability programme secured by blockchain that ensures end-to-end traceability of recyclables.

The platform allows people to deposit recyclables in “smart bins”, trace quantities, earn credits and understand their environmental impact.

The smart bins, which are located in residential buildings, retail outlets, schools and on public sidewalks, open via Bluetooth technology for Yalla Return application users. 

“The bins are equipped with level sensors to measure their fill level and decrease unnecessary trips by the waste collector,” said Rabih El Chaar, founder and CEO of Nadeera.

“It requires no maintenance and is outfitted with solar panels to reduce their reliance on electricity. When the bin is filled, the bags are collected and scanned, and users receive credits based on the quality of their sorting,” he told AGBI.

Each Yalla Return user gets their own QR code, which allows them to track their recycling habits and earn rewards.

The system records all transactions, providing a secure and immutable record of a company’s environmental practices. 

Some 26,000 households across 80 communities in the UAE, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia have signed up for it so far. 

yalla return uae, recycling blockchain, recycling uaePexels/Mumtahina Tanni
Existing recycling incentives such as bottle deposit fees fail to keep pace with usage
Recycling in action at Cop28

Yalla Return’s digitally traceable waste collection bags are being used at Cop28 to line the recyclables compartments of the 177 public waste bins available at the event. 

These bags are individually scanned, inspected, sorted and analysed to document and analyse behavioural patterns and maximise user engagement. 

El Chaar said that on the first four days of the conference the programme diverted 2,000kg of recyclables, avoiding greenhouse gas emissions of 7 tonnes and saving landfill space of 50 cubic metres.

Another such initiative launched at Cop28 is Voluntary Recycling Credits, led by Roland Berger and Bee’ah Group, in collaboration with the Swiss Dfinity Foundation.

Based in Sharjah, the initiative involves trading and recycling credits on a blockchain marketplace, ensuring transactions between waste off-setters and recycling companies are secure and can be audited.

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