Scene 8: TrashBack offers an Interesting Opportunity

Scene 8


We set out to find opportunities for management of Blue Sky’s point of sales by meeting the founder of TrashBack through our common connection, Sid. We found that increasing the speed of paperwork and payment was crucial to increasing the efficiency of Blue Sky’s process. Through e-mail conversations, we decided to meet at a local watering hole called Cabrito. The conversation we hoped to have would help us learn more about the infrastructure needed to run an efficient and sustainable business.

Cast of Characters: Steve, Brendan, Archit, Kelsey, Andrew

Andrew McNaught is the founder of TrashBack, a businessman and entrepreneur who has worked with several other NGOs and start-ups in the Cape Town area. He works with various companies to improve their point of sales and their overall organization and infrastructure.


We had gone back and forth with Andrew via email for a few days before agreeing to meet at Cabrito for some snacks and small talk. We arrived a bit early and were able to soak in the details of a quiet, no-frills saloon situated at the tip of Greenpoint. The bar was without much chatter and we were told to sit anywhere we wanted by a barmaid who knew we were not there for a daily drink. The atmosphere was that of a Seattle wharf: dark, brick, and steeped in the ambience of a no-nonsense bar intent on fostering discussion without distraction. The cold wooden benches greeted us as we sat down and reiterated our agenda for the meeting.



Before our meeting, we intended to keep Blue Sky out of the conversation as much as possible. We did not know under what capacity Andrew would be coming to talk to us and how much of a competitor TrashBack would be to the growth of Blue Sky. Andrew came into the establishment and orders were taken. We eyed each other, unsure of what to do as the meeting was so open-ended. Thankfully the silence was broken with idle chatter while we waited for food to show and business to begin.


  • How does TrashBack work?
  • Under what capacity can the systems work?
  • How do people in informal settlements react to biometrics?
  • How does the business handle logistical information and data?
  • How are private are records kept? How is the privacy of pickers ensured?
  • What are the possible plans TrashBack has for roll out?

Action and Observation

As conversation flowed, Andrew asked us what we were doing at Blue Sky. We were hesitant to give stringent details, as we did not know the real role of TrashBack in the recycling exchange business realm. However, as our conversation progressed it was clear that TrashBack was more of a facilitator and consultant for point of sales and management systems than a true purveyor of waste management services.

“So how does TrashBack handle its picking process and movement of materials?”

“We don’t directly source materials, we just look to implement process improvements in the data recording and management realms.”

This change from perceived competitor to consultant ushered the interview along and allowed us to be more open; as we asked the questions that were more specific to Blue Sky’s methods. This shift also brought a progressively relaxed feel to the conversation and Andrew opened up more and talked increasingly in details about how TrashBack actually worked.

“TrashBack offers biometric front ends and a multitude of databasing options for point of sales for the picking and recycling industry.” This boils down to working with recycling companies to set up safe ways of giving pickers money and/or other benefits for trading in recyclable materials. Using fingerprint scanners, TrashBack tracks people’s trade-ins, rate of recycling exchange by pickers, bulk of sale, and more; linking it all back to their secure database. This promotes privacy and integrity of data for each picker and the company as a whole. It is important to understand that having stringent usage data of their transactions can save companies a lot of time and effort and as such, TrashBack offers a safe alternative to the paper and pen system of record keeping.

According to Andrew, TrashBack also takes away the need to carry money in the trucks, significantly reducing the risk to the driver and crew. “Its not worth risking the life of the driver over three thousand rand” said Andrew. The biometric system scans a picker’s fingerprint via a scanner, links up to the database, and records sales. It can also print receipts, rewards, vouchers, and statements of money transferred into formal bank accounts. This offers versatility for the picker and safety for the recycling company.

Andrew described the two main systems that TrashBack employs for attaining data. One he described was the “Citi/Polo” option and the other was the “Rolls Royce” option. The two were both novel systems that took front-end information and stored them for later use. The Rolls Royce option employed fingerprints to link pickers with their accounts and was able to store their data on separate servers that would keep data safe and private. “This data can be later used and easily aggregated and searched to find trends, carrying capacity of the system, and overall statistics needed by a business”. The team was definitely intrigued by the opportunity and asked what the general pricing options were. We were pleasantly surprised when the rate ended up being roughly 4500 ZAR a month, a notably low amount for implementation of a high technology item. The “Polo” option was definitely less feature-rich but still held significant promise. “It is more geared towards point of sales but it can be a versatile tool nonetheless,” described Andrew. The second option allowed for use of a pin number or ID number to identify a picker and held data for a shorter period of time. “This requires more diligent daily backup but is at a much simpler pace than the Rolls Royce option”. The “Polo” option gives the versatility of having a quick data entry system but requires people to offload data and use it more frequently so while useful it might increase overhead significantly.

The group asked what people in the informal settlements thought of the biometrics and the technology-rich approach to data management and accounting. “It’s a duality,” explained Andrew. “The kids love it and really flock towards technology to try it out and see results. But the older people generally are more wary of the technology, especially if they are recent immigrants from countries like Nigeria, the Congo, or other areas of civil strife. The most common question we get is ‘Is this connected to the police?’ so we have to spend the time to ensure that the data remains private and that no data is being shared with anyone.”

Reflection and Learning: 

Talking to a successful entrepreneur in the formal recycling sector was an enlightening experience. Much of the conversation revolved around learning from pickers and interacting with the client to make a more usable product, which helps further our understanding of how to formulate a usable and sustainable path for Blue Sky’s future. The idea that as a project group we want to purvey something that will be usable for years to come and not something that will be swept to the wayside.

We also appreciated the duality of technology in informal settlement. Children are quick to pick up the technology and embrace its use while adults have a hard time and are customarily distrustful of it. It underlines how important it is to have security and consistency in a system, especially if customers have a reasonable expectancy of privacy. A company wants to ensure that their customer base is safe especially if they are a social enterprise and business like Blue Sky is; a manager would not want to put their customers privacy and well being in danger, especially with something so specific as biometrics.

Ideas for Going Forward:

The team is very excited with the opportunities that a program like TrashBack can bring to the table for data organization with Blue Sky. Another opportunity that we have lined up is CommSell, which will be an interesting dimension to add to our options while a hybrid of CommSell and TrashBack might be even more interesting yet.