This vending machine turns plastic into gold

Could this be the solution to Malaysia’s woefully low recycling rate?

HelloGold horizontal
The new recycling scheme that swaps gold in exchange for plastic or aluminium is hoped to increase awareness of recycling among Malaysians. Image: HelloGold

A solution may have been found to Malaysia’s pitifully low recycling rate—a machine that turns waste into gold.

Kuala Lumpur-based fintech firm HelloGold and reverse vending machine (RVM) company KLEAN have unveiled a machine that deposits 10 Malaysian cents (2.5 US cents) worth of gold in return for a recycled plastic bottle or aluminium can.

There are RVMs in Singapore, Germany, and the United States that accept empty drink cans and plastic bottles and spit out money or coupons in return, but none have offered a precious metal as the incentive to recycle.

“Unlike cash, physical gold is a desirable form of savings in emerging markets such as Southeast Asia. By making access to gold easy and affordable, we believe that customers will be incentivised to recycle,” said Robin Lee, chief executive officer of HelloGold, in an interview with Eco-Business.

With the help of technology, Lee said barriers to accessing gold will be reduced by enabling people to buy it in small weights.

HelloGold provides a fixed rate of 0.00059 grams of investment-grade gold or 10 Malaysian cents for each recycled plastic bottle and each aluminium can.

Unlike cash, physical gold is a desirable form of savings in emerging markets such as Southeast Asia. By making access to gold easy and affordable, both online and offline, we believe that customers will be incentivised to recycle.

Robin Lee, chief executive officer, HelloGold

To use the machine, consumers must first download the HelloGold mobile app from the Google Play Store or Apple Store and register for an account. The app is Shariah-compliant.

After depositing their waste bottles or cans in the machine, users can convert e-credits they’ve accumulated into gold through the KLEAN digital wallet and HelloGold app.

The gold bullion is stored in a vault in Singapore, and is redeemable as physical bars, coins or cash.

According to Lee, the company ensures transparency by displaying the real time gold holding position of all customers on its website, and the amount is independently verified by the gold vaulting provider, Bullion Star International.

He added that users can buy, store or sell gold for as little as RM1 through the HelloGold app.

Users can register for an account at any of the 40 machines that will be installed across Klang Valley in Kuala Lumpur from July, and 500 machines across the rest of Malaysia at key locations before the end of the year.

After launching in Malaysia, Lee said they plan to expand to other countries like Singapore, which also has a low recycling rate, and South Africa, where there is a large informal plastic recycling economy.

Environmental group Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) said that the new recycling effort provided Malaysians with an incentive to recycle by creating value for used plastic, and as such could be the “start of the systemic change needed to reduce plastic waste on a larger scale.” 

However, WWF’s corporate partnership strategist Maggie Lee said recycling was not the only solution to the problem—reducing plastic use is also necessary. 

Malaysia’s recycling rate is just 17.5 per cent, and awareness of the need to recycle is low in the country despite a national waste segregation programme that was introduced by the government in 2016

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