Neuroscience has long understood that the human brain is hardwired to seek out rewarding stimuli. We do so both for evolutionary benefit and for extrinsic gain, such as financial remuneration. From fashion to social media, the science has been applied to a number of fields.
Now one Dubai resident has shown how we can use the system for environmental benefit. Eric Schaffner is the man behind ZeLoop, a UAE-based mobile application that rewards people for recycling plastic bottles.
Schaffner, CEO and founder of blockchain technology company SmartBlock Beverages, says the app’s reward system directly helps fight littering and promotes the creation of a circular economy.
“By creating value for waste that is disconnected from the material residual value of the material collected, we incentivise users for embodying pro-environmental behaviours that avoid leakage to nature,” says Schaffner, who has had a long career in the packaging industry and wanted to do something about human-generated plastic pollution.
Worldwide, we discard 1.3 billion plastic bottles every day, and less than 10 per cent of all the plastic ever made has been recycled.
Since its launch in 2020, ZeLoop users have already diverted close to one million bottles from leaking to nature, he says.
Consumers bring plastic bottles of any size or shape to a collection point and upload a photo of their deposit. The platform then geo-locates the user, validates the number of bottles deposited and credits users’ blockchain wallets with Eco-Rewards, a digital currency token created by Schaffner and his team. These tokens can later be exchanged for discounts at partner retailers, or even cash and Bitcoin (via the Binance exchange).
The gamified approach to waste collection has drawn 11,000 app users in nearly 150 countries. Further, collection points have been mapped in around 50 countries.
ZeLoop is the first company in the GCC to be recognised with the Solar Impulse Efficient Solution label, the only evaluation that guarantees the economic profitability of products and processes that protect the environment. The company is also a Living Business success partner and offers technical expertise to the programme’s participants.
ZeLoop rewards users with additional reinforcement techniques. Further tokens are awarded to those who bring in new users through social media referrals. Similarly, the crowdsourcing of collection points, for example, works as an emotional reward for users who want to do their bit.
In addition, users can also participate in ZeLoop-linked Eco-Missions, where companies can use special events to engage with customers as part of their corporate social responsibility strategy. Such limited-time actions can harness human effort to achieve large goals over a short period, while simultaneously onboarding new users.
Similarly, ZeLoop works with corporate partners to establish recycling projects. As a Living Business success partner, Schaffner and his team set up a recycling programme for Kingdom Pride Center, a retailer in Bahrain. ZeLoop users receive a discount voucher of up to BD5 (US$13) that can be redeems against purchases at Kingdom Pride.
To close the circle, ZeLoop’s partners audit the waste management process – although at every collection point, treatment depends on the corresponding waste management company. “Our partner BlackForest Solutions audits post-bin treatment and provides a circularity certificate. In such cases, ZeLoop can drive feedstock to these quality points by providing extra tokens for bottles deposited to the most efficient points,” Schaffner says.
Besides the environmental gains of circularity, value benefits flow around the circle, rewarding the different parties involved.
But the rewards don’t need to stop with plastic bottles. ZeLoop can be extended to other environmental solutions, he says. “The application is built on a blockchain reward engine that serves as a platform to which other sustainability and environment-protection applications can be connected, to create an ecosystem with a suite of eco-friendly solutions.”
By doing so, ZeLoop can help scale the circular economy.
For now, Schaffner is focused on consolidating ZeLoop’s early gains. The company has signed on representatives in the USA, France, Morocco and Zambia, with more deals in the pipeline, he says.
Plastic waste particles have already permeated every region of the planet. As more people sign up to earn rewards with apps such as ZeLoop, there’s no reason why it should continue to pollute the environment.