Plastic was once the greatest, most promising new material invented in the 20th century. Who remembers this exchange from The Graduate?
Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean?
Mr. McGuire: There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?
Now utterly ubiquitous, plastic is out of control. Plastic is clogging landfills and beaches, polluting our water and soil, and endangering wildlife worldwide. Forward-thinking organizations are now exploring ways to take waste plastic out of the environment and repurpose it in ways that help people most. What if waste plastic could be used as a type of currency, and used to help reduce poverty?
The organization Plastic Bank is doing just that: harvesting and repurposing waste plastics, then, in conjunction with 3D printing technology, using them as “Social Plastic” to improve the lives of disadvantaged people while cleaning the planet.
The Plastic Bank’s advisory board is comprised of global leaders in business, social entrepreneurship, and ocean advocacy. It includes, among others, plastic recycling expert Mike Biddle, oceans expert Doug Woodring and Filipino social entrepreneur, Illac Diaz.
Part of the problem is that we don’t think of plastic as something valuable, so it gets tossed into the trash or into the ocean. If the value of plastic could be realized, it would become too valuable to simply throw away and could be treated as a resource instead of a waste product.
Dr. Mike Biddle, member of the Plastic Bank Board of Directors, has developed a comprehensive 30-step plastics recycling system that can produce plastic pellets for reuse by industry, using less than a tenth of the energy it currently takes to produce virgin plastic.
“The Plastic Bank is setting up plastic repurposing centers around the world, where there’s an abundance of both waste plastic and poverty. We are empowering people to harvest plastics as a currency they can exchange for tools, household items, parts, and 3D printing. Our mission is to remove plastic waste from the land, oceans, and waterways while helping people ascend from poverty and transition into entrepreneurship. Our self-sustaining business model empowers the poor to harvest plastics as a currency for various opportunities including education, training, necessities, and 3D printing services,” says Vancouver-based entrepreneur David Katz, the founder and CEO of The Plastic Bank.
The Plastic Bank ran a successful crowdfunding campaign last year, raising over $20,000 toward opening its first pilot project in Lima, Peru, in February of 2014. Their mission is to clean up the ocean and planet by ensuring that anyone can collect enough plastics to permanently ascend from poverty. Their self-sustaining business model empowers the poor to harvest plastics as a currency for limitless opportunities.
“When operational, The Plastic Bank will exchange social plastic as a currency that can be used towards items that help lift individuals out of poverty and support local entrepreneurialism. As technology develops, The Plastic Bank will provide 3D printing services with the goal of converting social plastic into the raw material for 3D-printed products like tools, parts, and household items,” says Katz.
Creating a demand for social plastic has the potential to reduce waste plastics around the world. Currently, over 300 million tons of new plastic is manufactured every year. And every year, about 7 million tons of that ends up in our oceans. But we can assign value to waste plastic and empower the poor to exchange it for equal value.
Ocean plastic is an industrial problem that requires an industrial solution. “Global, social, and environmental crises are linked, and so are the solutions,” according to Katz. “The crisis of waste plastics is an industrial problem that demands a transformative solution, like taking ocean-bound plastic waste and assigning it value. That is the promise of social plastic.”