Bower, an app that helps reward people for recycling, has secured €4.1 million in a late seed round to help it expand from its native Nordic region. The round was led by blq Invest, with existing investors Almi Invest GreenTech, Verdane Foundation and Orkla Ventures among others bringing the total raised by Bower to €5 million.
The funding will begin the next chapter of Bower’s growth, starting with the UK. One of Sweden’s most popular apps, the forthcoming launch will be its first test outside the Nordic region and, if successful, the start of global expansion.
A founder’s mission
Bower was founded by brother and sister Suwar and Berfin Roza Mert, who are now the company’s CEO and COO. Suwar Mert told TFN that it was an evolution of his ideas to promote sustainability. Prompted by his collection of reusable bags, which grew each time he forgot to take one to the shop, he attempted to create deposit schemes to minimise the use of bags. “We got a lot of publicity,” Mert told us, “but it never scaled.” Undeterred, Mert kept the deposit idea and applied it to packaging.
“How it works is that we give all packaging a value, so they end up in the right bin. And even if it ends up in nature, someone will pick it up because it has value.” The idea is an old one, for many years deposit schemes ensured the reuse of bottles. But Mert has used modern technology to create an app that scales his idea, making it easy to use and capable of corporate partnership.
With the idea in place, he joined with his sister, one of his seven siblings, who provides balance for him. “She’s my wingman! I’m more of the visionary with a lot of ideas, always coming up with new ideas,” he joked. “She’s the one stepping in, saying ‘Stop! We need to structure it with a plan and a goal.’ I wouldn’t want to work with anyone else.”
The partnership has been a successful one. Since Bower was launched in 2019 it has expanded throughout the Nordic region, and it now boasts over 300,000 users. However, its real success has been in the impact those users have. Collectively they recycle more than 1.4 million packages each month and have saved over 1 million kg of CO₂ to date.
Surprisingly, despite widespread acceptance of the need for recycling, there is still a need for the app. In the UK recycling is seen as a norm, with 90% of households recycling. Despite this, the amount of waste has been increasing and recycling rates have been declining in recent years, 2021 saw the lowest level of recycling in ten years. Despite a widespread willingness to recycle, the good intent is frequently confounded by poor information, with recyclable materials thrown away and, increasingly, ‘wishcycling’ where people incorrectly put materials that cannot be recycled into the recycling stream. The app can help address this.
“Bower’s app is about promoting what we can all do, as individuals, to reduce our carbon footprint and live in a more sustainable way,” explains blq Invest founding partner, Kamjar Hajabdolahi. “Meaningful data showing how people tend to recycle is crucial if we want to make sustainability scaleable for all, and bring brands along on that journey.”
The app works by not just informing, but also incentivising, recycling. Users can scan labels to get information, advising exactly what can and can’t be recycled. And the database is constantly updated by the user community. When the app detects they have dropped things off at a recycling point, they are rewarded with vouchers, cash, or charity donations. The app is free to users, with consumer brands like Nestlé, L’Oréal, and Unilever using it to help achieve their sustainability goals.
Bower are now looking to enter the global market to build on their rapid growth of the last year. With a team of twenty they have doubled their size from the beginning of the year, and expect to be 40-strong by the end of the year. Their goal now is to succeed in the UK market, which they are about to enter, before launching in the US over summer.
For Mert, the Bower app is the final part of creating a sustainable system and works towards his vision of zero waste. “More and more brands have 100% recycled packaging. But 100% recycled package doesn’t mean it will end up in the recycling bin,” he explains. “We want to give the consumer the incentive to do the right thing with the packaging. We want to give your trash a value. Our vision, our goal, is to never say trash to anything again.”