Sung Yi-chen (left) and Li Yi-he (right) employed their design expertise in founding “Good to Go,” putting into practice their ideal of harmony between people, our island, and material goods. (photo by Kent Chuang)
You can find shops serving custom-mixed tea drinks everywhere in Taiwan. However, while these drinks represent a huge business opportunity, they also generate 1.5 billion discarded drinks cups each year. Fortunately, Sung Yi-chen and Li Yi-he, founders of the “Last Longer Project,” are promoting the drinks container rental service “Good to Go,” providing an alternative choice to single-use containers.
“Painless” rental model
When you come to Tainan’s Zhengxing Street commercial district or the area around National Cheng Kung University, you see many shops with a cute cup-shaped sign hung on their doors or set out on their counters. By scanning the adjacent QR code and becoming a Line friend of Good to Go, you can use their container rental services. All you have to do is show the rental screen at the shop and they will put your drink into a Good to Go cup. When you are finished with your drink, return the cup to any participating business, and the Good to Go team will collect the used cups and take them to be machine washed and sterilized.
For consumers this doesn’t call for much of a lifestyle change, since you still don’t have to bring your own travel mug and don’t have to wash anything, so people can behave in an environmentally friendly way with little effort. However, it took the Good to Go team two years of trial operations to create the process for this seemingly simple service.
Founders Sung Yi-chen and Li Yi-he were classmates in the Industrial Design Department at National Cheng Kung University. They jointly founded the Last Longer Project in 2015, with the idea that they “wanted to find a second life for all kinds of usable resources; things should not be made just be to be thrown away.”
In 2017 they launched Good to Go’s “Zhengxing Cup Project,” experimenting with various operating models for Good to Go in the Zhengxing Street commercial district. To win the confidence of consumers, Good to Go started off by using transparent glass tumblers. They assumed that as long as clean glass containers were placed in shops they would be used, but when they did on-site visits they found that there were problems with available shop space and staff training.
Good to Go spent a year designing their own tumblers, taking into consideration various factors including heat resistance, transportation, and washing, as well as recycling of broken tumblers. In the end they opted to use polypropylene, which has a smooth, non-stick surface, as the material, and they designed the cups to be stackable. After tumblers are returned from the cleaning plant, they are inspected one by one, then their QR codes are scanned, and sets of ten cups are placed in long waterproof bags designed by Good to Go. The cups are stacked bottom up, making them easy to use. For consumers, the cups add a designer feel to their drinks, and they can be used with the tumbler totes and reusable straws that are available in stores. Moreover, each time a consumer returns a rented cup they earn points, which they can exchange for drinks discount coupons.
Spreading the Good to Go message
Sung Yi-chen explains that the deadline for returning cups is midnight the next day. If the deadline is missed, the system will send out a reminder over Line and put a freeze on the person’s right to rent more cups. Most people who use Good to Go identify with the company’s ideals and will not deliberately wreck the process, so that thus far there has been a very low rate of cups not being returned. Good to Go reminds its clients that returning cups on time allows even more people to use them.
Good to Go also makes its presence felt at events like the Megaport Music Festival and the Wake Up Festival. At the Good to Go booth, people can rent cups, plates, and cutlery to use at the event, greatly reducing the amount of single-use tableware consumed.
Last year Good to Go not only continued to promote the use of its cups in even more shops, they also developed self-service cup return machines: consumers need only scan the cup’s QR code and insert the cup into the machine, and the team will periodically come round to collect the cups. The hope is to make it even easier for people to return their cups.
Although Good to Go is still at the stage of seeking partner shops and trying to work out a feasible business model, their impact on the issue of trash from single-use containers has attracted a great deal of attention. For example, Wu Yajing, who runs a Thai food stand in the Zhonghua Road night market in Tainan, sought out Good to Go on her own initiative with the aim of becoming a container rental point for the night market. She wants to encourage people to rent containers at her stand which they can then use at other food vendors, as everyone works together to spread the ideal of reducing plastic waste.
Good to Go has also begun to expand beyond Tainan, thanks to support from cooperative projects by the Kuang Tien General Hospital in Taichung, the Hsinchu County Environmental Protection Bureau and the Tainan City Environmental Protection Bureau. This has led to cooperation with convenience stores: For example, a number of convenience stores in Tainan now offer the option of purchasing coffee in Good to Go cups. As of the end of 2019, Good to Go has enabled shops to use 67,000 fewer single-use containers. Some day, when high-volume vendors such as drinks shops and convenience stores all provide rental containers for take-out products, the impact on the environment will be even greater.
New value for home appliances
Homeapp123, which went online in January of 2019, is the first home appliance rental platform in Taiwan. After signing up as members, appliance owners can upload pictures of their appliances along with details including the brand, model, and any comments, to become “appliance renters” and make their appliances available to other Internet users.
Every home is like a small warehouse. Through a few simple steps Homeapp123 can link together individuals so that idle appliances can be put to use and also earn some income on the side for their owners. It’s surprising to learn that the two founders do not have a background in information engineering, but rather created Homeapp123 just by having a little bit more initiative than most people have.
Back in 2016, two full-time homemakers, Judy Zhuang and Michelle Kao, signed up for a “financial freedom” class offered by the Richark company, and decided to do a project on appliance rental. Zhuang and Kao made their own conventional and robot vacuum cleaners available for trial rental free of charge to Richark members, and in the process worked out details like the rental procedures, contracts, and prices. They also asked members skilled at setting up websites to create a simple webpage using Google Forms. To their surprise, even non-members signed up for rentals, and the two began to sense the market potential of home appliance rentals. They formally established the Homeapp123 company in July of 2017.
Michelle Kao says that at first they expected that customers would only want to rent expensive high-end appliances, so they set up just two rental plans and fee levels: Rent on Tuesday and return on Friday for NT$500, and rent on Saturday and return on Monday for NT$700. These were the same regardless of the type or brand of appliance. It was only after they began real operations that they discovered that demand for home appliance rentals was very diverse, and there were even people willing to pay NT$500 to rent an electric rice cooker that would cost only a few thousand NT dollars to buy new.
Renters fall into three types: The first wishes to use an appliance with no intention of buying it, while the second plans to try it out, and to buy one for themselves if it fits their needs. If everyone were willing to use the appliances on a platform like this, not only could people get new value from their possessions, the number of appliances that are purchased and that accumulate in homes could be reduced. “It’s not that we want to discourage people from buying home appliances, but rather to ask them to think clearly about what they need before they buy. For example, don’t go buy a large new oven because of a sudden momentary interest in baking, then just use it a few times and never use it again.”
The third type of renters are commercial users. For example, one company rented ten air purifiers through Homeapp123 to get rid of a lingering smell after redecorating, while a TV drama production company rented high-end appliances as props for a set depicting a luxury dwelling. The Homeapp123 platform has accepted many commercial orders—often for ten or more appliances at a time—for items such as insect traps, induction cookers, and rice cookers. Kao notes that many people mistakenly assume that Homeapp123 is a company that has purchased all kinds of home appliances to rent out. In fact, given the wide variety of items in demand, no company could bear the burden of storing that many appliances. Their role is to help renters tap into the huge resource represented by the appliances kept in individual households.
Homeapp123 urges people to think in terms of “right of use” rather than “ownership.” As the concept of the circular economy matures, making products into services will be the trend of the future. For example, the Color Park International Group has developed a model for renting out lighting equipment. They promote the leasing of LED lights, with the company providing regular maintenance and finally recycling. Users have the experience of renting lights that save energy and resources, thereby putting the circular economy into practice.
The founders of Homeapp123 were just two full-time homemakers who wanted to earn some extra cash through the rental of home appliances; they never expected that this activity would turn into a full-blown enterprise. Sometimes, all it takes is a little initiative for what seems like a wild idea to make an unanticipated difference. We can all participate in the circular economy more than we imagine.