Vismands Menjoks is the founder and CEO of WinGO Deposit. WinGo is a team of green-minded IT specialists and engineers from Latvia. WinGo developed a waste reverse vending machine that is based on the principles of digitalization. It is even able to collect crushed bottles and cans through advanced recognition capabilities.
Tell us a bit about your company. Where did the idea to design a waste reverse vending machine come from?
For the last six years I have been developing my career in the field of ITC – developing and implementing various solutions to automate processes in industries like Industry 4.0, Smart Cities and others by using AI technologies that focus on Computer Vision, ML, ANN.
Two years ago, there was an intense discussion about implementing a deposit system of beverage packaging in Latvia. One politician said that there were no technology companies in Latvia that could develop such a machine, and most likely Latvia will buy reverse vending machines (RVM) from other countries. It was at that moment we felt like: “Challenge accepted!”
In three weeks, we developed the first prototype that collected perfect-shaped, flattened, and damaged PET bottles, cans, coffee cups, yogurt, and tetra pack-type of packaging. Why these, one might ask? The simple answer is that these are the items we could find on the streets. Our team was united by what we heard in the press: that there was no technology in the world capable of collecting crushed bottles and cans in a deposit system. Only undamaged cans were possible for collection. We made a video with our progress and we shared it on Facebook. In the following weeks, there was great interest from the media, and the video went viral internationally. At that moment we understood that it was worth digging in more and “WinGo Deposit” was born.
Photo: Vismands Menjoks
Do you consider WinGo a startup? If yes, do you have venture capital in the company?
When I was in Silicon Valley, there was a comment that if you didn’t make an IPO you can consider yourself as a startup. As we are eager to distribute our solution all over the world, we are also looking for new partners and investors. We are just at the beginning of the road and we have ambitious plans for the future!
There are already vending machines in use in other countries. What is the advantage of WinGo compared to them?
Our vision is that RVMs will become “green stations” in the future that can be easily adapted to collect different type of waste by using the latest technologies. For example, we are not only collecting packaging but in all our RVMs there is a special pocket to collect used batteries.
We don’t want to “copy-paste” old-school systems. We want to prove that waste collection can be done in a better way.
We can collect flattened and damaged packaging, and we are against paper receipts. Gamification is one of the central features of the WinGo collection process.
What do you mean by “gamification” exactly and how do you think it can help in waste collection?
Gamification in principle is to bring greater involvement by entertaining and challenging the user. When you hear something related to the waste then your first thoughts are not really that it is something wicked or interesting.
Through gamification principles, we want to change this perception and make waste collection cool and challenging. The first and most obvious thing, is that you can compete against each other with friends.
But what is maybe even more important is that we developed an ecosystem of local companies that can additionally reward collectors through their own services. This means that you can collect coupons or ‘WinGo points’, as we call them, by returning the waste. Users can exchange digital points later to get free rides in carsharing, free pizzas, or Uber rides. This not only motivates the users but also our partners can show that they care about the environment.
So, in the end, by using our platform, it is not only nature that will benefit from waste collection but businesses and consumers too. Everybody wins in their own way and that’s the only way to achieve our common goals.
What are your plans for the near future? How do you want to grow?
We have several plans and we are in discussion with various potential partners. Of course, the first and most important for us is that here in Latvia we can implement the first RVM’s. But at the same time, we are already talking about an order for Estonian needs too.
Beyond the Baltic region we are looking to take a part in the tender with the UK, including Scotland. We also have a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to bring WinGo Deposit to Indonesia.
And finally, we want to continue our product development as well. We are further investing in the R&D of artificial intelligence and sensors to develop the next model of our RVM.
Do you already work together with companies or do you plan such cooperation in the future?
We participate in the European Union-funded project BOWI (Boosting Widening Digital Innovation Hubs). Our technology partner is VTT, which is one of the leading research centers in the EU. VTT will help us develop a new type of material detection sensor that can detect all types of material. This would be an important improvement because right now all the RVM’s in the world can only detect metal.
What do you think about plastic recollection and recycling in Latvia, in the region, and Europe? What are the biggest challenges and possible solutions?
My fear is that existing deposit systems, as they operate currently, will not help to achieve the EU Green Deal.
So, the question in my view is: “What is the purpose of the deposit system”? If the goal is to maintain the current business model than it can stay as it is. But if the goal is to solve the environmental challenges that we are facing, then we must think and act differently.
What are the prerequisites for vending machines to be successful, from regulators and the wider public?
From the regulatory side I think if the system will be logical and easy to use for the consumer, then the system will work better than they do now. Countries that are implementing the deposit system should be brave enough to not copy the systems that were developed in the past. We are living in the 21st century. This means that 70% of consumers are Millennials and members of Gen Z, and they are the ones who have to be convinced to return the waste.
And from a system point of view, I think the RVMs in each country should not be run by the same companies that control the deposit system itself.