“It looked like incredibly hard work,” Lara recalled. After talking to the man, it turns out he had been doing the same work for 10 years, and was still living in poverty.
The encounter gave Lara an idea. What if there was a way to connect the collector on the street directly to the massive waste streams that exist in Chile, and to the companies that pay decent money for recyclables?
“We knew we had to do something,” said 24-year-old Lara. That’s how a recycling app startup, called ReciclApp, was born. The app launched last August. Since then, the bearded young entrepreneur has been on a mission. Standing in their section of an open collaborative workspace on the fifth floor of the luminous new innovation centre at Santiago’s Catholic University, Lara let his glee shine through in his elevator pitch for the app.
“It’s the Uber of recycling,” he said.
It works like this: individuals, businesses, and institutions download the free app. Once they have cans, boxes or bottles to get rid of, they declare specific numbers in the app and choose a date and time period for pickup. From that data, the company creates and prints out routes for the collectors they work with. There are now an average of 200 collectors working with ReciclApp across Chile, and about 1,000 app users in the country.
For collectors, it’s an efficient route with guaranteed recyclables, and they keep all the money they make. Lara’s team cuts out the middleman transporters who would previously take the material to large recycling companies. ReciclApp even has designated storage centres where collectors can leave material before a truck from large recyclers shows up….
Lara estimates that there are about 100,000 people trying to earn money from recycling in Chile. Those that work with ReciclApp have more than doubled their recycling earnings on average from about $100 USD per month to $250 USD. But even that, Lara admitted, is a small gain when you consider Chile’s high cost of living….
ReciclApp intends to change that. “We’re going to start hiring waste collectors, so they’ll have a set wage, a schedule, and can earn extra income based on how much they collect and how many homes or businesses they visit,” said ReciclApp’s director of operations, 25-year-old Manuel Fonseca….
For Fuentes, 40, the biggest improvement is how she’s treated. “Families value us as workers now, not as the lady who asks for donations and picks through the garbage,” she said. “We spent too many years hidden in the shadows. I feel different now. I’m not embarrassed of my work the way I used to be.”….(More)”