Friday, October 15, 2021

Tekntrash – knowing your customers with the help of AI

Companies depend on sales data to know consumer patterns when in fact they could obtain valuable data post-sales as well with the help of AI while at the same time promoting the importance of proper recycling and waste collection. We interviewed Al Costa, professor of big data and AI and founder of TeknTrash about AI’s role in changing the way we manage our waste.

What is Tekntrash? Could you please explain the concept in detail?

TeknTrash is an AI and data company which obtains data from trash. To that end, TeknTrash created Stipra.com, which is today’s probably the only service in the world which pays people to recycle properly while providing product manufacturers with post-sales data to increase their sales and thus pay for the service. Thus, TeknTrash effectively created a sustainable way for companies to pay for people to recycle their products properly.

How was the idea born?

From the realization that most people dislike recycling and only do it because otherwise they may be punished, and that companies are not punished despite we see their products increasingly ending up in the oceans. Thus, it is time to reward people and expect companies to also bear the burden.

How can our waste crisis be solved in your opinion?

There is an increasing awareness from the public that the recycling industry is dysfunctional. In fact, only 4% of all plastic is actually recycled, the rest ends up in the ocean, being burned, sent to underdeveloped countries, etc. Thus, it is a problem of global proportions which can thus only be solved by something of similar size.

What role do you think technology plays in solving our problems?

Data is being increasingly called “The new oil”, such is the impact it is having in our society and the financial benefits it can bring. In fact, even the very inventors of the oil industry, the Rockefeller family, already left the oil industry to other markets. As such, only data has the power to solve a crisis of global proportions.

Al Costa, founder of the company

Which problems cannot be solved by using technology?

The human mind is the most powerful thing in the universe and a computer cannot run unless some person plugs it to the wall. As such, receptivity to any new technology is always the main and upmost challenge.

What is sustainability for you and when did you become interested in it?

I am a biologist and a Christian, and thus I care about the environment and people in general. Also, my father was a diplomat and we lived in very poor countries such as Haiti, so I looked at poverty in the eye and it ain’t pretty. And poverty and environment are so closely connected! Haiti for example was France’s richest colony and now is a sterile land because its people cut down all the trees to make charcoal for cooking.

What is the technology behind Tekntrash and why is it revolutionary regarding waste management?

We at TeknTrash created the POD – Point of Disposal. This is a device which captures post-sales data, basically “consumption” data. And, just like there are various flavours of POS – Point of Sales, according to the sales data requirements, there is the need of various POD according to disposal data requirements. Stipra.com is the first POD created by TeknTrash. It provides consumption data based on pictures of products taken by users when they are disposing their household products to obtain rewards. Regular people register at www.stipra.com and make videos of their consumer products as they throw them in the trash. These videos are processed by the AI system and products are located. Companies then go to corp.stipra.com, which is the SaaS system actually paying for all of it, and consume that data, geolocating in real time where their products ended up. Thus, this post-sales data can then be compared with their sales data, which allows consumer product companies know their consumers better, which increases sales and creates a virtuous cycle income=recycling.

Why is the use of AI a breakthrough regarding our trash?

AI allows for the identification of the products disposed, and also discovers interesting patterns which can be translated into also more sales. For example, AI is able to make predictions of sales based on the number of products disposed. If this number is decreasing, it can identify the reason, and that could be for example that most of the products are half-way used, which means the customer was unsatisfied with it and disposed it even before using it up completely which means it will not buy it again.

Who is the team behind Tekntrash?

I had companies in 4 different countries and I learned the importance of having a really good team, and I am very proud of the team behind TeknTrash. And all the science in the company is led by Dr. Kaveh Madani, who was named one of the 6 most influential scientists in the world.

Who are your competitors and how are they different?

There are a number of technologies which create incentives for proper recycling, such as Camden Recycling in UK and Recyclos in Spain, but they never provide data for manufacturers of those products, so the cycle is not complete and they thus also depend on government incentives to survive. Stipra provides product manufacturers with real time data on where and when their products were disposed, along with age and gender of the consumer, and also allows that data to be exported and thus compared with regular sales data in order to know the customer better and thus increase sales

What are your current challenges and successes?

We are about to start a major crowdfunding campaign with CrowdCube and are in the final stages of obtaining the required funding to start it. And one of the reasons why we opted to raise money through this instrument was because it was so common for investors to not understand what we do and to claim we are in the recycling, crypto, environment, industries despite our repeating claims we are an AI and data company. On the other hand, we are making headlines and that is critical for any crowdfunding, and thus we are very optimistic with it.

What kind of awards have you won?

We received a grant from Banstead and Reigate Borough, we were selected by the WEF – World Economic Forum one of 3 most impactful technologies of over 560 registered, Euronews chose us as #1 greentech company to change the world in 2021, etc

What is your vision for the future?

I remember when the internet was starting and I’d present it to companies. To those who thought I was some snake oil salesman trying to push them something useless, I would just say “You will have internet because your clients will simply not accept that you don’t”. Needless to say, those who still said “no”, no longer exist. The same is happening with ESG: companies have it because it is “nice”, because it is “fashionable”, etc. But ESG is as useful as the internet and only after companies learn to use it properly is when they will actually make money off of it. Deliveroo lost 1/3 of its market value in its IPO because of ESG concerns. If that does not convince companies of the importance of ESG only the bankruptcy courts will.

Andrea Nyilas
Andrea is a researcher and sustainability journalist. She is passionate about protecting our natural resources and is specifically interested in the circular economy, resource management, and waste prevention. She earned her MSc in environmental sciences and policy at Central European University, in Budapest.

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