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Image: Woman carrying bags of plastic in the Philippines and smiling

What if We Turned Plastic Waste into a Valuable Currency?

What if we could eliminate most plastic waste, alleviate poverty, and clean up our oceans all at the same time? This isn’t an idea for the future, it’s a movement happening right now in countries around the world!

Did you know that 93% of the plastic waste in the world’s oceans comes from just 10 rivers on our planet? 1 This might sound discouraging on the surface, but there is hidden potential in some of the details: common to the flow of every one of these rivers is a lack of infrastructure for waste disposal and recycling. 2 And these regions are handicapped by poverty and poor education on the impact plastic has on the environment.

A new wave of thought leaders in our world are looking for innovative solutions at the intersection of multiple problems!

So what do you do when you are faced with a growing environmental crisis, compounded by a lack of education, and a need to get people out of poverty? In this case, you’ll find that plastics can be turned into a form of valuable currency people can actually use!

Image: Woman carrying bags of plastic in the Philippines and smiling
Courtesy of Plastic Bank

Meet The Plastic Bank

The idea for a Plastic Bank started with co-founders David Katz and Shaun Frankson in 2013. Their idea was to create a bank where people could redeem collected plastic for credits towards goods and services. This way they could stop the flow of plastic into the ocean and help to alleviate poverty.

In March of 2015, they launched their first Plastic Bank in Haiti. Here, the Plastic Bank is helping people make a sustainable income, creating financial stability for families, and giving people the ability to have a stable future.

The Plastic Bank’s work is simply remarkable, so to give us a first-hand look at what they are doing on the ground we have a great piece from one of our favorite creators, Great Big Story.

Via: Great Big Story 3

Freedom to Plan for a Future

Imagine what the world would look like if recycling plastic waste became the vehicle that gave people a shot at sustainable financial freedom. If people don’t have to worry about how they are going to find their next meal, educate their children, or keep a roof over their heads, we open the doors to the kind of long term planning that spurs on financial stability and economic growth in some of the world’s most troubled communities.

All of this while we stop the destruction of the environment through plastic pollution. Now, who said that economic prosperity had to come at the cost of the environment?

Social Plastic Can Change the World

So, what happens to all of this plastic? Well, it becomes a part of something called Social Plastic.

The Social Plastic ecosystem is a way for individuals and major companies to help fund Plastic Bank and use more recycled plastic.

Major companies like SC Johnson, Henkel, and Marks & Spencer have joined in the Social Plastic Ecosystem, packaging their products in Social Plastic and supporting Plastic Banks get started around the globe!

In 2018, SC Johnson helped open 9 new collection centers in Bali, Indonesia. As a nation that produces nearly 10% of the world’s plastic waste, movements like Plastic Bank are vital. 4

Check out this great piece from Plastic Bank about these new collection centers and how Social Plastic works on the ground!

Via: Plastic Bank 5

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can get involved with the Social Plastic ecosystem, jump over to the Plastic Bank website. There you can check out the ways you or your company can get involved. If you are an individual or small company, you can even buy Social Plastic offsets on the site! This way you are helping fund sustainable income for Plastic Bank collectors and offsetting your own plastic use.

You should also join their community of followers on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to find more ways to get involved!

What can we learn from a solution like Plastic Bank?

To start, it’s important to recognize that this idea starts as close to the root of the problem as possible. Going zero waste and completely eliminating plastic in impoverished areas may happen one day, but for now, plastic is a reality for much of the world. But here, instead of trying to eliminate plastic after it has reached the oceans, the Plastic Bank starts at the root of the problem. Working to stop it making its way to rivers and waterways in the first place.

These innovators are connecting many dots and making the most of every opportunity for progress. They are creating incentive structures to encourage people to pick up plastic while giving them a sustainable income. They aren’t just working to end plastics in our oceans, they are working to alleviate poverty as well, which is, arguably, another root cause of plastic pollution.

If all that wasn’t enough, they are also using technological tools at hand to make all this possible. Using innovations like blockchain and mobile banking, Plastic Bank is creating a system that not only helps people secure their money but grows at a rapid pace.

This is the kind of incredible innovation that is possible when we break down problems to their component parts. When we tackle problems at their roots and create incentive structures that work for everybody, we are capable of making progress.

What would our world look like if we worked to understand other problems this way? How could we build a brighter future if we designed systems that worked for everyone? A brighter future is possible. It’s up to us to get creative and build it.

Fixing Pollution Through Fun! How a Googly-Eyed Innovation is Cleaning Baltimore Harbor

With googly eyes and a beloved twitter account, Mr. Trash Wheel has become an icon in Baltimore Harbor. His story is helping us rethink the important role fun has in tackling some of the biggest problems we face!

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How TurtleCams are Enlisting Turtles to Protect their Ocean!

Do you remember the viral video of the sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nose? It changed the way many people saw our ocean plastic problem. And now, the scientists behind that video are keeping the positive momentum going—this time turning to the turtles themselves for footage of how we can help make a difference!

Read Article Watch Video Listen to Podcast
Is Going Zero Waste Really Possible?

Have you seen those people who can fit a year’s worth of garbage into a mason jar? Is that even possible? Meet a family that tried to live zero waste for a month and see how it went!

Read Article Watch Video Listen to Podcast

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  1. Patel, Prachi. “Stemming the Plastic Tide: 10 Rivers Contribute Most of the Plastic in the Oceans.” Scientific American, 1 Feb. 2018, www.scientificamerican.com/article/stemming-the-plastic-tide-10-rivers-contribute-most-of-the-plastic-in-the-oceans/. Accessed 15 Aug. 2019.
  2. Franzen, Harald. “Almost All Plastic in the Ocean Comes from Just 10 Rivers: DW: 30.11.2017.” Deutsche Welle, 30 Nov. 2017, www.dw.com/en/almost-all-plastic-in-the-ocean-comes-from-just-10-rivers/a-41581484. Accessed 25 July 2019.
  3. Great Big Story. “Turning Plastic Trash Into Cash in Haiti.” YouTube, Great Big Story, 1 Apr. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=JS4f8ssIXtY. Accessed 25 July 2019.
  4. Plastic Bank. “Plastic Bank in Indonesia.” Plastic Bank, www.plasticbank.com/plastic-bank-in-indonesia/#.XTmbyOhKiUl. Accessed 25 July 2019.
  5. Plastic Bank. “How to Tackle Plastic Pollution and Poverty | Indonesia | SC Johnson & Plastic Bank.” YouTube, Plastic Bank, 1 July 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ur_Bb4u6Ero. Accessed 25 July 2019.
Image: Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

Liesl Ulrich-Verderber


Since 2015, Liesl has been a writer, editor, and is now the CEO at the Goodness Exchange. She is a life-long camera-toting traveler, a global story seeker, and an aspiring—but more often root-tripping—outdoor enthusiast. She can be found on Instagram @Liesl.UV

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