Feibao is a free recycling service that acts as a kind of middle man between waste producers and waste collectors. It started with electronic waste, and has expanded to include all kinds of recyclables. Mainland China as a whole churns out more than 520,000 tons of waste each day, and Feibao is attempting to fight the good fight in Shanghai along with programs like Green Initiatives' We Project. The difference is Feibao is more social enterprise — with big goals.
Born as a passion project, Jonathan Cruysberghs and Clement Saint-Ellier are the foreign engineers behind the new service that launched officially in May. So far they've reached about 700 'producers' looking to recycle and have recruited collectors by taking to the streets. Their core mission is to create a system that combats long-term pollution issues around improper disposal of electronic waste from heavy metals, CFCs, and luminescent powders.
How It Works
It’s pretty simple. Just add Feibao (username: feibaowaste) on WeChat and send a picture of your recycling. Feibao will then ask you to provide your phone number, address, and a suggestion on when collectors should attempt a pick up.
They’ve got a chart of the stuff you can recycle, taking the “is this… even recyclable?” out of the mix. The list includes the usual suspects like plastics, aluminum cans, cardboard, then also: clothes, shoes, smartphones, electronics, furniture, DVDs and CDs (finally a way to dispose of that recording your guitar strumming ex made you!). They don’t take food waste, so no composting here, but pretty much everything else.
The SmSh office had a whole lot to recycle:
When I message Feibao, I get a window of 11.30am to 1pm Friday. The day of, the collectors got here at 11.35am. When does that ever happen?
Two guys (not Jon and Clement) came to pick up the trash; they somehow fit the impossibly tall mountain of recyclables in two large canvass bags. One of the men brought up the picture I sent Feibao on his smartphone, pointing to two keyboards that were missing from the pile.
About an hour later I got a text from my new friend Feibao asking how things went.
Where Does It All Go?
Currently, the waste is not tracked, Feibao is simply connecting people who want to recycle and people who want to collect waste to reuse it. The waste is either being re-sold or downcycled. Feibao looks to ‘uberize’ waste, to get producers and collectors to meet in the middle with a mutually beneficial transaction.
A Chat With the Founders
Jon’s got 5 years of experience in digitalized & IT in the waste industry in China and Clement has been in the waste industry about 6 years from Paris to Abdu Dhabi to Hong Kong to Mainland China. The vision for Feibao was hatched on a diving trip in Thailand a little over a year ago, where the pair stayed up all night swapping ideas about responsible recycling. Super cute.
They came up with the Feibao model independently, then realized versions existed elsewhere in the form of start-ups in the U.S., India, and a few spots in Europe. This confirmed their belief that a model like this could work in Shanghai. They began testing their service with friends in December 2016 until they launched officially May 1.
SmSh: So you have about 700 followers, but about how many pick ups a week does Feibao facilitate?
Clement: Officially from the first of May, we have a 130 collections, but since July 9 we’ve doubled the number of collections every week, we are close to 40 a week
SmSh: How many collectors are there?
Jon: A lot…it’s a work in progress, we’re trying to score the quality of those collectors through customer feedback and of course not everything is perfect but we take the feedback and we improve...we’re constantly trying to do that. Also, we try to partner with people that will reuse it instead of sending for recycling and we look for those kinds of companies to partner with.
Clement: So the idea is, you have to find people who can use the waste, but the waste industry is very vast; this is where our expertise comes into play, we are capable of finding recycling output where it doesn’t go to landfills but can go to those who can use it.
SmSh: During pick up in our office, the collector noticed 2 keyboards were missing. So collectors resell some of the electronics directly? How much does a keyboard go for?
Jon: Yes, this is where the pictures are important; when the collectors go to pick up, they want to make sure it's all there, it needs to be worth their while.
Clement: We help waste collectors optimize their route with technology; helping them make more collections and therefore more money from selling the waste...Collectors can resell smartphones for 1,000-2,000rmb, AC units 200rmb, fridge 50-100rmb, and for the keyboards maybe 10-20rmb a piece.
SmSh: Why is it such a big deal to recycle and reuse, and what's the biggest challenge you're facing here?
Jon: A big challenge is lack of education. This is why we approach the issue by educating consumers and facilitating recycling at home: by explaining to them how to sort, providing them a Feibao bag, and providing an easy to use service. It’s important to recycle in order to avoid overproduction and reducing the use of energy.
Clement: Recycling is a also a way to preserve energy and cut down on carbon emissions, for instance recycling the content of an average Feibao bag represents carbon emission savings equivalent to carbon emitted by a car driving over 25km.
SmSh: "Are there other services like Feibao in Shanghai? How can people do their part to 'live a little greener' here?
Jon: There are a few start ups with reusable packaging, this is actually growing a lot; but like our platform, it's not in China yet.
Clement: But we do want competition, because we ultimately we do it for the environment.
Jon: [In terms of being green] people have to understand that sorting the waste is really important. If you don't sort at the source it's going to be hard to sort after, and if it's mixed waste it'll go in a less optimized way. People have to sort, it's a small effort.
The Future Is Feibao
They're zooming out a bit, focusing not just on service but also on education, partnering with organizations like Green Initiatives to spread the word on responsible recycling. The guys have also launched a point system with their partners to reward those that recycle with Feibao with discounts at Mr. Waffle, Sproutworks, Groupmall, 17Hi, KC Wines, and Pawsome. Check out their website for more details.
To use the service, add Feibao on WeChat: feibaowaste.