Plastic for crypto: Initiative aims to clean up Uruguay’s beaches

By Raul Martinez

Montevideo, Mar 18 (EFE).- Two surfing classes for the price of one and a 20 percent discount on haircuts are just two of the benefits offered by the Plasticoin initiative, a Uruguayan circular economy project that leverages cryptocurrency in a bid to encourage recycling and clean up the nation’s beaches.

The project, launched in 2020, allows people to obtain real economic value in exchange for the plastic waste they collect.

It also has a mission to educate people about the “irresponsible” disposal of products such as plastic food wrappers and bags that can persist in the environment for centuries and adversely affect wildlife, wildlife habitat and even human health.

Plasticoin co-founder Juan Rivero said the project’s mechanism is “quite simple.”

People need only create a user account that allows them to store in a virtual “wallet” the “plasticoins” they accumulate in exchange for delivering plastic waste to collection points in Montevideo and the southeastern city of Maldonado.

“In a certain sense, we’re trying to find a way to involve more people in the recovery of plastic containers, but also in the cleaning up of beaches, and (achieving that) somewhat through the excitement (created by) bitcoin, cryptocurrencies and blockchain,” he said.

Although the project does not operate on any “blockchain” due to the high cost that would entail, Rivero said the initiative emulates the workings of that encryption technology and thus far has garnered around 5,000 users.

“We’re very pleased because more people are joining every day. There’s more and more plastic that people are removing from the beach,” he said. “In our first year of operations, we received around nine tons, but in our second year we got that number up to 30 (tons).”

Even so, the challenge is daunting in a country where, according to Rivero, 450 tons of plastic waste are generated daily and just 5-10 percent of it is recycled.

Although the project is still “very far” from generating the impact its creators are seeking, he says it is disrupting the status quo and helping break old patterns regarding the disposal and management of plastic waste.

Users receive 100 plasticoins in their virtual wallet for every kilogram (2.2 pounds) of plastic they deliver. That cryptocurrency can later be exchanged for benefits or discounts at the more than 140 companies affiliated with the initiative.

“We’re not interested in people bringing us lots of plastic,” Rivero said, adding that the goal instead is to raise awareness and achieve a sharp reduction in daily plastic consumption.

Waste management service company Taym is playing a key role in the Plasticoin project by collecting, transporting and baling the up to 1,300 kilograms of waste that are delivered weekly by ordinary citizens and subsequently recycled at other plants.

That company’s commercial adviser, Carlos Yosi, told Efe that Taym looked into other projects before teaming up on this initiative, adding that the goal is to expand it to other parts of Uruguay.

“The idea, a little further down the road, is to try to go and do the (collection days) in other departments … and for it to be more informative, so as to bring more people on board,” Yosi said. EFE


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