Local Waste-Management Company Among Asian Winners at Global Startup Competition

By Lwin Mar Htun 20 December 2019

In a first for a company managed by Myanmar citizens, local waste-management service RecyGlo competed with more than 20 other startups from Southeast Asia, Asia Pacific and the Caribbean and was among 15 winners of last month’s Seedstars Asia Competition in Cambodia, earning the company the right to take part in the global competition next year.

Specializing in emerging markets, Seedstars has gained a reputation as the world’s largest startup competition, and holds events in dozens of countries around the world.

Local startup RecyGlo has developed a waste-management and analytics platform that achieves a recycling rate of more than 98 percent, reduces administrative costs, and provides logistics, education, reporting and certification, explained cofounder Ko Okka Phyo Maung.

“I am proud to represent Myanmar as a high-impact and highly scalable startup that is growing internationally. We’re solving probably the most challenging waste-management problems in Myanmar and Southeast Asia,” Ko Okka said.

Now, the firm says it’s ready for the global competition, which will be held in Switzerland in April.

RecyGlo Myanmar was among the winners at the Seedstars Asia Competition in Cambodia in November. / Supplied

RecyGlo was founded in May 2017 and handles plastics; metals; paper; glass; e-waste including batteries and electronics; organic and agricultural waste; and hazardous waste.

Ko Okka said he became aware of Seedstars in 2017 and first entered RecyGlo into the competition in that year. After entering the contest for three consecutive years, they were among the winners for the first time this year, becoming the first Myanmar company to achieve the feat.

“We’re already a fan of Seedstars and it is the easiest way to showcase our portfolio for investors in a very short period of time,” Ko Okka said.

Last month, he went to Cambodia to represent Myanmar, and RecyGlo achieved success. “It was a good feeling and [the event] is a milestone in my life. And we met with mentors, investors and the startup community. It was a great opportunity,” he said.

There are an estimated 6.3 billion metric tons of plastic waste in the world, of which only 9 percent has been recycled. Waste that isn’t recycled ends up in a landfill or in the ocean, Ko Okka said.

RecyGlo Myanmar provides color-coded bins for waste separation. / Supplied

“So, the main purpose of our project is to create a closed circular economy waste-management system that does not need to use landfills or incineration, causing serious pollution. We would like to keep the world’s environment clean,” he said.

RecyGlo’s services include waste collection, waste awareness training, waste audits, and providing neighborhood recycling bins.

“Once [a client] starts working with us, we provide the colored dustbins to separate their waste into, such as paper, plastic, tin cans, glass and so on. Then, we provide training and we collect the waste once a week or so, depending on the client. Then, we send the waste to the recycling facilities, and the client can check the waste traceability,” Ko Okka said, explaining RecyGlo’s working process.

He added, “We have expenses. So, we charge depending on the services that the businesses and organizations want.”

When RecyGlo was starting out, people thought the idea of paying someone to take their waste was strange.

“But our clients are organizations with the same purpose [as us]: to keep the world environmentally clean. Now, we work with multiple organizations and we also work with household clusters to make this happen,” Ko Okka said.

RecyGlo provides waste collection and recycling services to around 400 nongovernmental organizations, companies, hotels and offices, including the Savoy Hotel, Panasonic, IFC, UNODC and Sakura Tower.

He added, “I don’t want to brag about how special we are. But we do impact on the thousands of people who are currently using our services.”

So far, RecyGlo has collected over 2,500 tonnes of garbage and has made a difference in the lives of more than 120,000 people, he said.

Early this year, RecyGlo was accepted into Norway’s Katapult Ocean Accelerator Program, receiving a US$150,000 [225.13 million-kyat] investment as part of the program. The money has helped RecyGlo expand its client base.

RecyGlo Myanmar staff visit a glass recycling factory, where they will send waste collected from clients. / Supplied

“We have a presence in Singapore, Malaysia and Myanmar and are looking forward to growing in Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand,” Ko Okka said.

As for RecyGlo’s future plans? “To become a true regional player in 2022 and impact 100 million people’s lives,” he said.

Note: This story was edited on Dec. 27, 2019 to clarify that RecyGlo Myanmar was among 15 winners at the Seedstars competition in Cambodia, and that the company first entered the contest in 2017. Information regarding the company’s clients was also corrected.