Thursday, August 5, 2021

TrashCash: It's A Commendable Cause But I Don't See It Getting Any Traction

What is TrashCash? From their official website's About Us page: "We are a startup who are building an AI based waste segregation app where a community can participate and earn rewards. TrashCash is a mobile application that will orient, educate, and incentivize Filipinos to know the value and impact of their trash. By simply scanning their trash, it will analyze and display the value of it."

Before I get to my contention that this app is not going anywhere, allow me to give props to the developers for a noble and commendable idea. Their hearts are in the right place. The app was created through the initiative of Benjoe Vidal, a software developer. His mission is to assist communities deal with plastic waste problems. Again, he came up with an idea to help with the terrible plastic waste problem in the Philippines. That deserves respect and admiration.

Plastic waste in the Philippines is a major problem. The country is the world's third biggest plastic polluter. It's estimated that nearly 3 million metric tons of plastic waste are generated in the country each year. The top two polluters are China and Indonesia. Making matters worse is the fact that the Philippines is an archipelago which means a lot of these wastes get dumped into the surrounding oceans.

Vidal is an environmentalist and an outdoors person. I'm sure he is fully aware of these facts. And these facts are the reasons why he is on a mission to help lessen the country's plastic waste.

I wouldn't call myself an environmentalist since I am not pro-active in environmental movements within the country. But I can say that I'm concerned about the immense amount of plastic waste that Filipinos produce. As a lover of nature and the outdoors, I want this to be lessened and I want to help in ways that I can. 

So I was much more than interested when I first heard about TrashCash. I immediately downloaded the app and started tinkering with it. I also visited their website to learn more. 

And unfortunate to say, I came to the conclusion that the app is impractical and I don't see it gaining traction to the point that its impact will be significant.

I have a few reasons why I think this way:

1. For the app to work, it has to partner with local government units. They have to coordinate with barangays to set aside drop-off points. I think this is the biggest hurdle preventing the app from gaining ground. I checked for drop-off centers through the app and there are currently just two drop-off centers. One in Manila and one in Calamba, Laguna. The app is in its infancy so it's not right to judge it this early. Still, this is not a good scenario at all.

Barangays already have garbage collection points. Will they be willing to set aside space as a drop-off center specifically for TrashCash users? If they do, this means additional responsibilities for the barangay. Somebody has to man the TrashCash booth right? 

TrashCash incentivizes barangays who use the app. According to Vidal, 60% of the gross sales from the collected plastic will go to the LGUs. The remaining 40% will go to TrashCash. Will the income from these sales be significant enough to convince barangays?

Barangays follow a simple waste disposal system. A garbage collection point is established, residents bring their wastes there, and a dump truck picks them up. To introduce another garbage collection booth to the system adds more responsibilities on their plate. I don't think LGUs would like that. 

2. TrashCash collects from booths twice a month. They do it every first and last Saturday of the month. This raises a lot of questions. The biggest question is do they have their own trucks to collect the plastic? This seems very impractical if they are to take their operations nationwide. And if they collect only twice a month, this means the collected plastic will languish at the booths for weeks at a time?

3. In relation to number 2, non-collection of trash for weeks at a time means storage space needs to be set aside by participating barangays. But here's the reality. Majority of barangays in the country don't have storage space even for their own garbage. This is why collection points in sidewalks and street corners are established where people can dump their trash on scheduled garbage collection dates.

TrashCash is basically asking barangays to set up storage space for them. I don't see many of them being interested with such a proposal.

4. Do people really have the time to use the TrashCash app? The app makes garbage disposal seem more complicated and time-consuming than it already is. For an app to be successful, it has to make it easier for a person to accomplish certain tasks. TrashCash achieves the opposite. It makes it harder for a person to dispose plastic waste. 

Usually, you just collect and segregate your trash, bring them to the designated barangay collection point, and that's the end of it. With the TrashCash app, you have to document the trash, create several separate containers for each plastic category, deposit the containers at the TrashCash booth, then show your QR code to barangay staff in order to get your points. 

Too many steps if you ask me. If all Filipinos are bleeding-heart environmentalists, I can see them following these steps day-in and day-out. But that's not the case. At the end of the day, garbage disposal decisions always come down to simplicity and convenience. People are looking for the easiest way to dispose of their garbage. TrashCash is not offering them this solution.

5. TrashCash has a rewards system but again is it enough to entice people to use the app. Are they willing to go through the extra steps to get the corresponding rewards? I don't think so. If one wants to earn money or rewards from his collected water bottles, he can always take them to the neighborhood junk shop. 

6. I can see the TrashCash app being effective and successful in a developed nation. I don't see it working in a third-world country where most people have "lessening plastic waste" at the bottom of their priorities list. 

7. Most cash-for-trash movements aren't sustainable. Some are successful at the start but they usually just flicker out. TrashCash isn't the first app to follow this business model. There are others out there. Most of them aren't making any significant impacts.

I can be wrong though. And I would love nothing more than for TrashCash to prove me wrong on every point I made in this article. I downloaded their app and I'll be more than willing to do my part should it be viable in my location.