(By Anne Field)
“The Plastic Bank, plans to use plastic as a form of currency that people living in poverty can gather and trade in to recycling centers located in impoverished areas with a lot of plastic waste. Then the centers, operated by Plastic Bank, would recycle the material on-site or ship it to a plant somewhere else where the plastics would be separated and recycled.“
To call this social enterprise ambitious is to engage in outrageous understatement: Monetize plastic waste found in beaches and other waterways, turn it into a source of income for people at the bottom of the pyramid, and then recycle the stuff, so it’s not littering the planet. Oh yes, and give plastic collectors access to 3-D printers.
Call it “social plastic.” Or, at least, that’s what David Katz and Shaun Frankson, co-founders of a startup aimed at doing this, use to describe the concept.
The Vancouver-based company, called The Plastic Bank, plans to use plastic as a form of currency that people living in poverty can gather and trade in to recycling centers located in impoverished areas with a lot of plastic waste. Then the centers, operated by Plastic Bank, would recycle the material on-site or ship it to a plant somewhere else where the plastics would be separated and recycled.
Ultimately, Plastic Bank would make money by selling the recycled material to businesses that might see the potential in making products created from plastic collected by the world’s poor and prevented from entering the ocean.
“We see trillions of dollars worth of plastic buried in the earth,” says Katz.
So, someone, say, working in a gas station could collect all the bottles around, bring them to a local center, and exchange then for goods (not cash), at a rate of about 25 cents per pound. Each center would have a few basic items in stock. But mostly, people would order items from a catalog.
Or–and this is the really wild part–collectors can get access to a 3-D printer, which they can use to make items that have an impact on the community–a water filter, for example, or a sprocket– and then turn themselves into entrepreneurs by selling the stuff.
“The more plastic they collect, the more they can lift themselves out of poverty. And the more plastic that is collected, the more will be removed from our waterways,” says Katz.
Katz, an entrepreneur who founded a company called Nero Global Tracking 11 years ago (Frankson joined in 2009) and calls himself “a beach bum”, got the idea during his travels around the world, especially while diving in various oceans. Invariably, when he was in poorer parts of the world, he would see beaches covered with plastic detritus. And as the years went by, the problem got worse and worse–beaches with “more plastic visible than sand.” It got him thinking that there had to be a way to apply his entrepreneurial moxie to the crisis.
The plan is to launch the first pilot in Lima, Peru, in 2014, where, says Katz, only 2% of waste is recycled. In Lima, the two have found a local entrepreneur, who doesn’t want to be identified and has donated the land on which the center will sit.
Katz and Frankson are funding much of the effort on their own. But they also are now in the middle of a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. They’ve raised $11,078 and are aiming for $20,000 by Sept. 15, to use toward creating the back-end of the exchange system and membership platform. That’s the system that will let collectors accumulate credits and allow the company to order inventory items or add different ones, depending on collector feedback. The crowdfunding, in part, is an effort to draw more attention to the project. But they’re also trying to raise money from angels and philanthropies.
The centers won’t be large–just big enough for a shredding machine and containers. The plan is to have multiple centers located in port cities, especially near the South China Sea, which Katz calls “a catastrophe” as far as plastic waste is concerned.
Ultimately, he’s looking to set up shop in Indonesia, Africa and India. He and Frankson figure they need at least $250,000 to really get the project going in earnest.
As the man once said in the Graduate, maybe the future really is in plastics–plastic recycling, that is.
“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”