The Bower app plays on the concept of bottle deposit to capture packaging types

Swedish green tech startup Bower has an app where consumers get paid to recycle; learn how and where to recycle; and discover the environmental impact of their efforts.

The tool’s built-in GPS technology, which works with Android and iOS devices, directs users to the nearest participating recycling station to drop off packages and scan their barcodes. The app allows them to earn points on their “deposits” redeemable for cash, discounts at participating retailers, and/or make charitable donation requests.

At the same time, consumers find out how much carbon emissions they save, thanks to calculations made using a model from the Swedish Recycling Institute, based on weight and type of material. The statistics are made tangible, so that consumers understand them: “When you recycle ‘X’ number of packaging, you save the equivalent in energy spent to run a vacuum cleaner for ‘Y’ hours. Or you reduce carbon emissions equal to those generated by driving or flying a specified distance.

Brands pay to access the app. For them, the tool is a way to work towards their sustainability goals by ensuring that their used packaging is recovered; and they learn how much of their own material is recycled through the platform. But it also serves as a channel for them to interact with consumers to get marketing insights that are leveraged to try and grow their business.

Founded by brothers Suwar Mert and Berfin Roza Mert,

Bower has sold its service to around 130 brands with Dove, Capri-Sun, Hellmann’s, Unilever, L’Oreal, and Procter & Gamble among some of the greats. Its 380,000 users recycle more more than 2 million parcels each month, mostly plastic. And they’ve cut over 1,600 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions since September 2022 alone.

The company is named after the Australian Bower bird, which is known to bring trash to its nest and sort it into different colors to attract mates.

The Merts chose this name, Suwar explains, because “we want humans to also see end-of-life material as having value rather than just trash.

We have an excellent deposit system in the Nordic countries, mainly for PET, which adds value to this packaging; thus more is recycled. You don’t see much [PET] containers in the streets. So we apply this deposit concept to all packages,” he says.

Bower has raised over $5.5m in large-scale capital since March 2022 and operates across the Nordics, most recently entering the UK and working on a pilot in the US with Zespri, a major manufacturer of kiwifruit.

But figuring out the value proposition to drive that growth took some scrutiny.

“What we have learned is that it is not enough to apply a solution around sustainability. Companies will not pay if it does not add business value,” says Suwar.

This realization struck him after he first introduced a reusable shopping bag model to grocery stores.

“I thought that [grocers] would buy a solution to solve the problem of plastic bags. But they make a profit selling them, so they weren’t keen on switching to reusable bags.

It was then that he turned to the strategy of recovering more types of packaging. But he also decided to design the Bower platform to meet the revenue-generating element he needed to fulfill to sell the idea. Businesses can use the tool to gain insights to increase sales as it collects and shares data points regarding purchasing decisions. Surveys and product review features allow brands to know customer opinions and satisfaction with their products.

For consumers, financial incentives have proven to be very attractive. But to attract users, and then get them to keep recycling, more carrots had to be added.

“Consumers who don’t sort and recycle aren’t doing it because they don’t know how and because it’s not fun,” says Suwar.

A game component was added, meant to make recycling less of a chore and keep people engaged. They can create groups and compete with their friends, family or colleagues, with the aim of being the one who recycles the most.

The educational component was also important. When consumers scan products, they receive instructions on how to sort, such as whether to remove caps or lids and sort like plastic and sort the rest like glass. And they learn why to recycle.

“We have seen through surveys that many users are starting for the financial incentives. But once they see their impact, they start to become more aware of sustainability. They are starting to care about recycling,” says Suwar.

The consumer education component has also had value for businesses.

Brands spend millions to ensure packaging is recyclable, with no guarantee that it is actually collected and processed.

This is where Bower comes in with what Suwar calls a “missing piece of the puzzle”… helping to ensure that significant R&D investments to increase recycling capabilities are not wasted. And that the material is found in collection bins, properly separated.

Brands can see how much material is recycled and can leverage this data to engage with the public, incorporating it into their sustainability reports or social media campaigns.

Nestle Purina, one of the brands using the Bower app, aims to have 100% reusable or recyclable packaging in its portfolio by 2025, says Alexandra Jaegers, Brand and Communications Manager at Nestle Purine.

“But, beyond transforming our packaging, we also want to help our consumers sort correctly. We know it’s a challenge. That’s why we were very happy to start the partnership with Bower,” she says.

Nestle Purine customers can also donate through the platform charities that support animal welfare.

“Supporting pets in need is one of our commitments, and something we really care about. [especially] at this time when we are seeing an increase in the number of animals to adopt.

Therefore, it was natural to add Djurens Vänner, Dyrebeskyttelsen and SEY to our Bower partnership. We know our consumers also share our passion for doing more of what matters, and together we really make a difference,” says Jaegers.

Suwar believes technology like Bower will become increasingly important with legislation, particularly in the EU, pushing brands to take greater responsibility for their used packaging.

For now, these companies typically focus more on packaging from a product protection perspective, but not as much on end-of-life material liability. As they are expected to play a greater role in managing the downstream flow, capabilities such as data collection and analysis, including tracking trends, educating consumers on how to sorting them out and motivating them to do so will be key to their success, suspects Suwar.

About Shelly Evans

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