China has embraced take-out culture in recent years, creating thriving food and drink delivery businesses and apps, but also mountains of packaging waste. The pandemic has sped that shift.

As China gets serious about sustainability, Beijing traceability tech startup Trashaus is helping brands to track their supply chains and recyclable waste in real-time, to ultimately create a closed loop.

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Trashaus phone cases and tags
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Trashaus is currently working with Meituan, China’s biggest food delivery platform, tea shop chain HeyTea, and coffee chain Seesaw Coffee, to create a circular economy model for plastic waste. It has so far tracked its clients’ waste and created more than 45,000 recycled pieces including keychains, luggage tags and mobile phone cases.

Trashaus also engages consumers by allowing them to scan a QR code for, say, a coffee cup, to unlock a view of its origins via mini-programs on WeChat.

Below, we speak with Trashaus founder vAns Zhang about material traceability, the importance of data in sustainability and the future of climate tech in China.

Tell me how Trashaus does what it does.

It’s a tracing platform that helps our clients to trace where the material goes; for example, where single-use plastic goes, if others might want to recycle it and if the recycled material is safe. In future, we want to build a network to link our clients’ single-use plastic to others who can use that plastic in different industries or brands.

We have very good connections so we are able to collect data from every stakeholder in the value chain.

Who are these stakeholders?

The stakeholders are, for example, those who make the virgin materials, to the [plastic waste] collector, to the factory that breaks it down to plastic granules, and others.

We collect all the data and integrate it. With the mini WeChat program, consumers can scan a QR code on an end product and see the entire process—where the material was collected, how it was processed and how it turned into the product they are holding.

Some people are looking at blockchain for traceability or tracking technology. Are you just using data feeds from all of these stakeholders? Or is there something that marks each piece?

At this stage, there are not so many stakeholders so, currently, we are only using a very simple database. But if we want to use blockchain, it is absolutely possible. With more and more partners jumping in, if we incorporate partners like recyclers, like logistic planners, obviously, we will need this technology for future applications.

Give me a sense of scale of how many people are using this WeChat mini program and checking on where their products are coming from?

We currently have over 2,000 in our own mini-program, and we also provide customized mini-programs for our clients. Currently, we have over 5,000 consumers that have already used our services. We have had over 10,000 scans.

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Can you tell me about two or three of your biggest clients that you’re most excited about?

At the moment our biggest client is Meituan, the biggest delivery platform in China and also the world. So Meituan has a very big issue with food delivery boxes.

We have also cooperated with Unilever since October last year. They want to build a circular economy system in China that is able to collect all recyclable materials like their plastic bottles.

We are also focusing on some local startup brands.

One of the advantages of startups is they are not big, like our current clients. They can make quick decisions. So maybe this year, they have like 30 stores, but next year, they already have 300 stores, all with the circular economy.

What do you think are some of the biggest hurdles or barriers to getting to where you want to go? Is it consumer attitude or lack of awareness?

It’s very easy to see the difference, you know, in just a few years. Consumers are more understanding about the concept we are talking about. And we know our clients will only make the change, or the big change, when consumers change their behaviors and their choices.

This is a question that we wouldn’t have been asking 10 or 15 years ago, but, suddenly, things have moved so fast in China, the whole electric vehicle movement, the drive for decarbonisation and now the shift in consumer awareness – do you see China leapfrogging the rest of the world in any area of climate-related tech?

A very big question. How do we collect the proper data that can be used to guide the entire market, or the government, in the direction we want? This will be something, I believe, where in the near future, China will be leading—having a very good understanding about using data and how to use it to drive different areas. This is my opinion.

There is a lot of data we can collect because we have a lot of people. So you have more samples to analyze, in different scenarios. I would say you can’t find a better place to test ideas.

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