A garbage truck’s worth of plastic is dumped into our oceans every single minute. There are more microplastics in the ocean than there are stars in the Milky Way. The amount of plastic produced in a year is roughly equal to the weight of humanity.

Shocking facts like these are easy to come by today as the conversation around the world’s plastic problem reaches fever pitch. What many don’t consider is that all this plastic ‘waste’ is actually valuable – it just needs someone to give it value.

Launched in 2013 by David Katz and Shaun Frankson, Plastic Bank has created a model to help alleviate two of the world’s very big problems – poverty and plastic pollution.

There are more microplastics in the ocean than there are stars in the Milky Way.

It’s using blockchain to turn plastic trash into digital cash, making the plastic too valuable to enter the oceans and helping to lift communities out of poverty in the process.

The majority of the world’s plastic waste comes from the world’s poorest countries, where understandably their focus is on basic everyday needs, and the infrastructure for recycling is not in place, explains CEO Katz in his TED Talk.

“We make plastic waste a currency in order to stop ocean plastic,” says CTO Frankson. “We do this by setting up social plastic recycling ecosystems that allow people to go out, collect plastic from within their communities and bring it to one of our Plastic Bank locations run by an independent entrepreneur from the community. All the plastic is sorted and assigned a value.”

The plastic is then sold as Social Plastic to companies such as German Henkel to be recycled and used in their products. Other global corporations such as Shell are involved in the company’s Plastic Neutral program, which allows companies to offset their plastic usage and invest in providing the recycling infrastructure that facilitates Plastic Bank’s unique social enterprise ecosystem.

Plastic Bank App

For the people in impoverished communities, plastic is collected and exchanged for Blockchain-secured digital tokens. At Plastic Bank stores, which Frankson and Katz describe as being more like community centres, people can also exchange for useful items such as solar power cell phone charging, cooking fuel, medical insurance and school tuition.

“We make plastic waste a currency to stop ocean plastic,” – Shaun Frankson

By creating its own app and online accounts for collectors, Plastic Bank creates a safe means of saving currency and empowering people.

Blockchain provides a secure end-to-end system where ID and accounts can be reliably verified. “We need to go into some of these vulnerable, corrupt communities and essentially be able to put millions of dollars into countries where, traditionally, that money disappears,” explains Frankson.

“Blockchain is a solution that guarantees that the incredibly vulnerable collector receives exactly what is promised.

“Blockchain means we can provide banking services to the world’s poor without being a bank. It allows us to have that trusted, recognised system of currency to phase out cash. Blockchain is a trust stamp,” he says.

Currently, Plastic Bank operates in the Philippines, Haiti and Indonesia and is projected to have 530 locations by the end of 2019.

The end goal, explains Frankson, “is to simply stop ocean plastic – not to run a campaign, or have a product line, but an actual solution that one day prevents plastic from anywhere on the planet from going into the ocean”.

And allowing people to make an income from recycling is the answer. “Where anyone can ascend from the lowest levels of poverty, have equal opportunity, and to ensure financial inclusion for the world’s poor, all through recycling,” says Frankson. “Our program really is the conduit for change.”

A self-described optimist, Frankson doesn’t ascribe to focusing on how problems have been created or the solution that may not have worked in the past, rather he looks excitedly at the direction new technologies are taking us and the possibilities for “empowering the world’s bottom billion”.

“I really believe the script to save to the planet will be written in code,” he says.

Be the change

You don’t need to be working as a social entrepreneur to make a positive impact and live a life of purpose, Frankson highlights. “As much as Plastic Bank partners with big multi-billion-dollar companies, it’s technically not those companies saying yes to our programs – it’s usually one empowered person that becomes an advocate and attracts a small team. That is enough for a billion-dollar company to start implementing initiatives of good and purpose.”
Ultimately, says Frankson, it’s about being proud of your work, and whether you are an employee, a CEO or an entrepreneur, you can work with purpose.