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Gamification and Rewards for Recycling


Photo of Mitul Sarkar
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In many poorer nations and communities, I've observed people spending their hard-earned money on buying lottery tickets. I realized that for those people, the lottery is a source of hope, and that people are willing to take a few extra steps (or spend money) for hope.
Even when people are incentivized to accumulate their plastic waste for selling by weight to informal or formal recyclers (e.g. the "kabariwallahs" in India, who roam residential neighborhoods and buy up plastic, newspapers, etc by weight),  the small-format plastic items like sachets, wrappers, container lids, etc are often ignored and dumped in the trash.

I believe that if each of those small-format items were to become the equivalent of one part or PIXEL in a larger entry into a potentially life-changing lottery, or part of a game to accumulate points towards a recycling leaderboard, then many people would take more care in properly accumulating those small plastic items and ensuring they are properly routed for recycling. 

It is likely that such an initiative needs a network of establishments or acceptance locations for the plastics. We must make stakeholders out of the product manufacturers whose packaging is the source of such small-format items. For example, manufacturers could recycle the small format plastics by incorporating them into their products and packaging, similar to recent examples from P&G's Head & Shoulders, Adidas, Pharell Willilam's clothing line, etc.

Idea Title

Small recyclables, when collected, pooled, and arranged in specific ways, can turn into game/lottery entries.

Company / Organization Name




Where are you / your team located?


How does this Idea redesign unrecyclable small format plastic items that often end up as waste?

In one iteration of this concept, manufacturers and local recycling initiatives cooperate such that small recyclables, when collected, pooled, and arranged in specific ways, can turn into game/lottery entries.

Which use cases does your Idea apply to?


In what geographical context or area does your Idea plan to operate / solve?


How do you envision scaling up your Idea?

Partnerships with manufacturers and local recyclers

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Research & Early Testing: You are exploring an idea, gathering inspiration and information needed to test it with real users.

Please describe how becoming a Top Idea and working with the Think Beyond Plastics Accelerator Program will help to accelerate your solution.

We will see!

Please describe from where your Idea emerged


Tell us about your work experience


Please describe your legal and organizational structure



Join the conversation:

Photo of Emma Chow

You should take a look at RecycleBank based in the US if you haven't already. They've partnered with municipalities to implement recycling gamification schemes in US cities.

Photo of Mitul Sarkar

Thanks, Emma. RecycleBank's points and reward schemes have been making positive change for years now, but (I might be wrong here) do they cover small-format item recycling, too? I suspect that they are limited in what items each affiliated local waste management company accepts, which may or may not cover small-format plastics.

Ultimately, I feel that gamification and points programs must dovetail with Extended Producer Responsibility (and affiliate agreements with recycling processors), as you've so succinctly pointed out in your write-up on these forums.

Photo of Emma Chow

My understanding is that RecycleBank stands up the online platform and recycling bin barcodes, education campaign, etc. to "gamify" recycling in cities, but the extent to what materials are actually recyclable depends on the recycling facilities used by the municipality's waste hauling contractors. At least in the US, recycling doesn't tend to include small-format items, so these likely aren't included in @mitulsarkar RecycleBank schemes; I may be wrong though (it was a few years ago that I did my in-depth research on RecycleBank).

I like EPR policies because they help incentivize manufacturers to actually change the way they design their packaging to minimize waste, and often save them production (and end-of-life collection) costs. While gamifying recycling can help divert recyclables from landfills, it doesn't change the way products are designed, the way things are packaged, and the channels by which waste is collected and processed.

Photo of Mitul Sarkar

Exactly, Emma. Perhaps we should be looking for a way to bring together EPR (the manufacturer-facing aspect) WITH gamification/incentivized recycling (the customer-facing, and waste management vendor-facing aspects). What do you say?

Photo of Emma Chow

Yes, 100% agree!

Photo of Lauren Ito

Mitul Sarkar thanks for your post, it's great to have you participating in this challenge. I wanted to ask if you've considered a business plan to scale this idea for implementation?

Excited to learn more!

Photo of Ravish Majithia

Gamification of recycling was the core idea behind Green Bean Recycling - a Boston-based startup that was subsequently bought by TOMRA.

Photo of Mitul Sarkar

Thanks, Ravish, for sharing that information. I shall look into them.