Kaptar aims to increase awareness and encourage citizens to recycle. The crux of the project, run by Ruta N tenant SDI Reciclar in Medellín, is to link traditional bottle recycling efforts to new-age technology. Through the creation of smart disposal machines, it believes it can make a dramatic difference in the volume of waste seen throughout the streets of Colombia — and beyond.
In a promotional video, the company says that 190 kilos of waste are produced every second across the world. The bulk of this is plastic, and Colombia is one of the many nations needlessly littered with bottles, bags, and all types of discarded trash.
The solution is something the organization calls “an intelligent system” of plastic waste capture — or “Kaptation” — using collection machines that are linked to a mobile app that financially incentivizes people who use it. Kaptar’s leaders see civic participation as essential to making progress on the problem, and they see digitizing the financial motivation to recycle as a key evolution in increasing adoption rates.
To learn more about their efforts, Finance Colombia Executive Editor Loren Moss recently sat down to speak with Tomas Villamil Parodi, general manager of the Kaptar project.
Finance Colombia: So, tell me, what is the mission of your company?
Tomas Villamil Parodi: Well, it’s a company that basically seeks to raise the re-use levels of waste material in the city by means of the economic potential that the waste material has. Basically, we are trying to take advantage of that economic potential to benefit the least-fortunate people. Right now, we’re developing the flagship project, which is to deliver prepaid electrical energy recharge that exist here in the city of Medellín by means of “Kaptar” technology. How? By “potentializing” the price of recycling through a publicity strategy.
Finance Colombia: What is the most important facet of the machines?
Tomas Villamil Parodi: I’ll tell you something about the secret of the business. The machine right now is the spearhead. It’s the object that makes the Kaptar system visible. But the Kaptar system has to transcend to a system where even the neighborhood shops can receive waste material from you.
So, in order to have much greater coverage, eventually we can also become a system that will work without the machines — with bar code readers to systemize maybe each person’s residues.
Eventually we believe that we can grow with other models, with other systems, with other alternatives. This is a universe. This is just starting out.
Finance Colombia: It seems to me that it would also be good for pre-paid mobile phones.
Tomas Villamil Parodi: Exactly. Pre-paid mobile phones and public transport. I make a deposit to the balance of the “Cívica” card, which is the one being used for the machine payouts, and the one that’s going to determine the course of this city. The card that’s going to integrate a lot of services.
Finance Colombia: Fascinating. And where are the machines made?
Tomas Villamil Parodi: They’re made in China. But the software — the whole operational system that we’re developing for them — we manufacture that in the company.
Finance Colombia: The machine looks very nice, it looks like something with advanced technology. Isn’t it a risk to leave it outside in the street?
Tomas Villamil Parodi: We have thought about that. Basically, there is a very important component in the system, and it is the educational component. We have based in on the construction of citizen’s culture and in environmental education. Number one: Through education, we believe that, even though acts of vandalism may occur, they will be mitigated with time. Number two: Initially, those machines will be in enclosed spaces. This model is for indoors.
We’re going to develop another model because we have already identified some protections made of polycarbonate, or tempered glass, that allow for greater resistance.
Finance Colombia: And you are based in Ruta N? When did you start out?
Tomas Villamil Parodi: Yes, we’re in Ruta N. We’re in Office K, in the building on the fourth Floor. We have been operating for almost two years. What we’re waiting for is an investor to be able to buy hardware, which is coverage. In the coverage, that is the whole subject of success.
Finance Colombia: What interest have you had up to now from investors? What interest have you had from the world of institutional investment or venture capitals or things like that? What have been the challenges, or have many come forward with their pockets full and ready to invest?
Tomas Villamil Parodi: Let’s say it has been, and it still is, the most difficult link to find. Because from the private sector we still have not had an answer. From the public sector, even though this project won the an environmental entrepreneur prize, has been worthy of awards, and has had quite a high profile, we still haven’t been able to find the investor who will definitely put his hand on his heart and take that kind of initiative.
Finance Colombia: What type of of investment are you looking for?
Tomas Villamil Parodi: Up to two billion pesos ($670,000 USD). In the first phase, to install 50 machines, and to generate organic growth so that next year we can have 150 machines, we need two billion pesos.
Finance Colombia: So, it’s a “lean” process? It’s not a process where you say that you need $100 million USD. It’s a process by stages?
Tomas Villamil Parodi: Exactly. It’s not so expensive, but we haven’t had access to those resources.
Finance Colombia: Fascinating. So, what are the company’s long-term goals? What is your vision beyond this machine, beyond this region of Colombia?
Tomas Villamil Parodi: Well, beyond here, it’s a system that can be implemented in any city. It’s scalable, so it doesn’t pose any problems, but the vision as a company is to be able to take advantage of all waste material. We already have some research published about the recycling of organic waste, and we have developed this system. Eventually we will be developing many more systems to recycle of waste.
Finance Colombia: Here in Medellín as well as in Colombia and in other developing and developed countries, there are people that basically live as what they call here “recyclers.” They pass in the early morning before the garbage trucks and they live basically from plastic bottles and cardboard. What positive or negative impact does that have? The first thing that comes to my mind is …
Tomas Villamil Parodi: That they’re going to be left unemployed?
Finance Colombia: Right. Because they wait for me. Every Tuesday morning he’s here, and if I don’t have any bottles for him I’m going to feel like horrible.
Tomas Villamil Parodi: We have designed the system so as not to leave out any actor in the recycling of waste. They are all included and there’s a place for everyone.
What has happened in Colombia in the last two years is that laws have been passed about the reuse of waste materials. Resolution CRA 120 of 2015 and Decree 596 of 2016 regulated the reuse of residues, allowing operational and other costs to be incurred in the recycling of residues to be transferred to users through tariffs.
So, what happens? Well, right now, the “street recyclers” don’t have access to the resources derived from that legislation because they are not associated, meaning that they are not in a company that can give them those resources. What we are going to do — along with the Secretary of the Environment of Medellín, which is already working on the formalization of the recyclers through a corporation — is channel the resources that come from Decree 596 to that sector of recyclers. So, through that technology, we will be able to deliver to those people the resources they have a right to.