SA’s Regenize uses virtual currency to encourage recycling

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South African startup Regenize has an innovative way of encouraging people to recycle: by providing them with virtual currency that can be exchanged for a variety of goods.

Launched in November of last year, Regenize provides recycling services to an array of customers. It collects recycling for a monthly fee, or allows people to drop it off for free.

It then rewards these customers with its virtual currency Zaka – which means “money” in Zulu – based on the weight of their recyclables. The Zaka can then be spent on Regenize’s mobile voucher platform to purchase vouchers for goods ranging from grocery and clothing to airtime and data vouchers.

This is the startup’s approach in suburban areas, but it has changed tack in townships and peri-urban areas.

“We are in planning phase to set up drop-off facilities where residents drop off their recyclables for free and in exchange they too receive Zaka. However, customers for the Local Hubs service receive a card, and instead of purchasing vouchers online, they can buy physical vouchers at the hub,” said co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) Chad Robertson.

“With their card, they will able to purchase vouchers towards groceries, clothing, work readiness development or a place to sleep. The vouchers differ for this service as we aim to use the Local Hubs to assist in combatting littering and illegal dumping, hunger, unemployment and homelessness.”

Robertson founded Regenize having envisioned a world where all plastic can be reused to create various products. Before the recycling service came along, he was focused on creating a business which would reuse plastic waste to create material that could be used for 3D printing and injection moulding.

This never took off, but Regenize is now operational using virtual currency to try and motivate South Africans to recycle. It is so far operating in seven areas within Cape Town, and hopes to expand further afield soon. It has 150 signups, and 16 different vouchers its customers can purchase with their Zaka.

“There’s was a lack of innovation in the residential recycling space and there’s a lot of waste that’s not being recycled. Recycling companies focus mainly on companies, and government only provides free recycling collection services to certain higher LSM areas,” Robertson said.

Regenize is self-funded thus far, but is currently negotiating its first funding round. Robertson said the reaction has been “slow, but supportive”.

“It is mainly due to having to market on a bootstrapped budget. We are only in seven areas at the moment and we need to market the service better in these areas,” he said.

“We have no expansion plans for the next two years. However, we’ve received interest from recycling companies in different cities who’d like to use our platform. Who knows, we might become the Uber of recycling!”

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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