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    The startup tackling plastic waste in Egypt through its “reverse vending machine”

    Egypt is the Middle East’s most populous country and produces an average of 5.4 millions tonnes of plastic waste per year. The country’s plastic pollution reduction goals have been complicated by a lackluster sorting and recycling infrastructure, a largely absent recycling culture, as well as a lack to integrate informal waste pickers, who are the largest group in the recycling industry.

    The technology sector remains underserved. There are only a few startups, and very little VC funding. The country’s non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are fighting plastic pollution, alongside grassroots communities and startups, as part of a growing global effort to improve recycling and sustainable garbage management. 

    Dawarha, a startup looking to solve the Egyptian plastic pollution crisis through technology, is one. Dawarha was founded in 2018 by Justina Adel and Mohamed Salah. It manufactures reverse vending machines that use artificial intelligence (AI). These machines reward customers for depositing single-use plastic cans or bottles. An app is also available that will direct users to the closest RVM.

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    Dawarha’s reverse vending machine

    RVM will accept any plastic bottles or cans. Customers receive a reward, such as new water bottles or vouchers that can be used in local stores. The company currently uses three dark stores to collect and sort waste. Later, the items are dropped off at a recycling facility.

    Salah states that most RVMs in the world can identify the items using a barcode. However, they can also recognize bottles by multiple factors such its brand and material. The entire manufacturing process is done in-house. This has been difficult because the country does not have a strong industrial base to produce complementary products. To be able to expand our reach internationally, we must continuously invest in technology and product development. “This is by far our biggest challenge,” he says.

    Global businesses are making a concerted effort to eliminate single-use plastics, in keeping with the increasing trend towards sustainability. While this presents potential for growth for startups, it is also a challenge for Dawarha as consumers are not aware of the issue.

    “[In global markets such as Germany], F&B companies are responsible for collecting bottles through a nationwide deposit system, meaning that the companies add extra fees to the price of the bottles available for sale at retailers. Customers can [be]You will receive a refund for any additional fees you pay when you return the bottles to your local shop or retailer. This [system]People are more likely to recycle when they get rewarded. Salah states that RVMs are one of the most efficient methods for waste collection and separation. On a monthly basis, 15,000 bottles are poured into our machines.

    While the startup works with many private sector companies, it focuses on Nestle, Coca-Cola, Pepsico, and supermarket chains Spinneys as well as Carrefour. The startup has been able to profit from the current boom in q-commerce by working with FMCG brands and offering direct-to consumer offerings in return for plastic waste. 

    Dawarha will place vending machines near its RVMs to achieve this end. These machines will provide customers with a variety of products, including grocery items. 

    “Customers can order items from vending machines through the app and have them delivered directly to their home via the app. “We will continue to implement the home delivery feature in accordance with our plans for increasing our waste pick up services,” he says.

    Dawarha secured $1.5 million funding from angel investors to expand its operations and increase the number RVMs. The startup has already placed 16 machines on the market, and plans to place more than 200 machines next fiscal year. 

    It has also plans to expand its regional footprint, starting in the UAE. 

    We are seeing an increase in RVMs from the GCC due to the fact that our machines are much cheaper than those from Europe. Salah says that we have already begun selling machines to businesses in the UAE. However, we still need to expand our operations. 

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