Recycling Plastic and Reducing Poverty - The Plastic Bank

Crushed plastic bottles
Crushed plastic bottles | Source

Plastic waste is a very serious and rapidly growing environmental problem. Our love of plastic items and our careless disposal of these items when they're no longer useful is polluting land and water, endangering wildlife and creating eyesores that are changing the face of the Earth.

Another tragic situation on Earth is the widespread existence of poverty. Some people have inadequate shelter or no shelter at all, a lack of safe or sufficient drinking water or insufficient food. In some cases people experience all three of these problems. Another frequent symptom of poverty is lack of education.

What if the dual problems of plastic pollution and poverty could be dealt with at the same time? This is the aim of an organization called the Plastic Bank. The organization's goal is for people to "harvest" plastic waste and deliver it to plastic repurposing centres. In exchange for the plastic waste, the bank will provide the harvesters with services, such as education and micro-credit loans, or give them goods, such as tools, household items and parts. The harvesters can use the goods that they receive or sell them. The bank hopes to encourage entrepreneurship in the local people.

The Plastic Bank will recycle the harvested plastic into pellets, which can be reused by companies and people who make plastic items. The bank is calling this material "social" plastic.

The Plastic Bank was created by David Katz, a technology entrepreneur from Vancouver, British Columbia. The bank's repurposing centres are being established in areas which have both a plastic pollution problem and a poverty problem. The first centre is set to open in Lima, Peru.

A potentially beautiful beach scene spoiled by plastic waste
A potentially beautiful beach scene spoiled by plastic waste | Source

The Founders of the Plastic Bank

David Katz is both a businessman who travels extensively and a scuba diver. In his travels he's been struck by the amount of plastic waste around the world. He says that he decided to create the Plastic Bank after he visited Malaysia and found a beach which appeared to have more plastic than sand.

Katz has formed a partnership with Shaun Frankson, another businessman and the co-founder of the Plastic Bank. The pair want to "monetize" waste plastic, enabling the plastic to become a currency. In their view, plastic waste is a valuable commodity that is being wasted. In addition, they want their business to be philanthropic.

Plastic waste on a Hawaiian beach
Plastic waste on a Hawaiian beach | Source

Social Plastic

A Plastic Bank repurposing centre will accept any type of plastic. The collectors don't have to classify what they find, beyond identifying that it's a plastic. The centre will give the harvester credits in return for the plastic, which can be used to obtain goods or services. The nature of these goods and services will depend on the needs of the people in the area.

The repurposing centre will house 3D printers and will offer people a recycled plastic medium for the printers so that they can order printed objects in exchange for the plastic that they collect. The medium will probably be plastic filament, which is used by most consumer-level 3D printers at the moment.

Shaun Frankson says that the Plastic Bank doesn't intend to pay the harvesters cash for their efforts because - in his view - cash becomes "very corrupt very quickly".

Although the Plastic Bank is a social enterprise that has been established to help people and the environment, it will be run as a for-profit business. Katz says that this is necessary because the project must be self-sustaining.

Katz and Frankson have a plastics recycling expert, business people, philanthropists and environmentalists on their team. They also have people who will explore local needs and recycling opportunities, publicize the bank's efforts and perform impact studies after a repurposing centre has been established.

David Katz Describes the Plastic Bank

Mike Biddle Describes How His Company Recycles Plastic

Recycling Plastic Waste

Nearly 300 million tons of plastic are manufactured each year. Most of this plastic stays in existence once it's made. Recycling is certainly very necessary. One problem with processing plastics is that there are many different kinds that each require a different treatment, however. Sorting plastics by type is vital before any recycling can be done.

One of Katz's team is Mike Biddle, a co-founder of MBA Polymers. This company carries out the automated sorting of plastic and claims that they are the "world leader at producing post-consumer recycled plastics". The company's recycling centres process one million pounds of plastic a day, which is apparently only a fraction of the waste plastic that collects on a daily basis. Biddle estimates that only about ten percent of our daily buildup of plastic waste is recycled. According to him, recycled plastic is pound-for-pound more valuable than steel.

Biddle would like the word "consumer" to be eliminated in relation to plastic. He believes that all plastic products should have once existed as a different plastic product. One of his goals, which is also a goal of the Plastic Bank, is to change people's attitudes towards plastic. People need to think that plastic is too valuable to leave on the ground or in the water.

The plan is for the Plastic Bank's repurposing centres to recycle some of the collected plastic locally if this is possible and send the rest to one of Biddle's facilities, which are located in several countries. The recycled plastic will be called social plastic because its collection and recycling will (hopefully) help people.

The Plastic Bank wants companies that manufacture plastic items to make their products from social plastic and to advertise this fact. They also want to persuade the public to buy only social plastic if they need a plastic product.

Plastic waste created by a village
Plastic waste created by a village | Source

An Interview with Shaun Frankson, Co-founder of the Plastic Bank

More Information about the Plastic Bank

The Plastic Bank has a website as well as a Facebook page, a Google+ page and a twitter account. It also has an information and fundraising page at the Indiegogo crowd funding website.

Plastic Repurposing Centres

The founder of PeruRail is providing land and financial support for the first Plastic Bank repurposing centre. Peru is an appropriate place for the project to begin. Only 2% of that country's waste stream is recycled, and much of the discarded plastic and other waste enters the waterways.

The degree of reliance on 3D printers at the processing centres remains to be seen, as well as their effectiveness at creating a large number of useful objects. 3D pinters are certainly becoming very capable and their cost is decreasing rapidly. Many of them use plastic as a printing medium, so the printers would seem to be well suited for the repurposing of plastic.

There is also the question of whether repurposing plastic from one use to another will actually reduce the amount of plastic waste or simply maintain it at the current level. This is something that needs to be closely monitored in any recycling effort.

Goals of the Plastic Bank

3D Printing From Recycled Ocean Plastic

Plastic and Poverty

The Plastic Bank has recently created the world's first 3D printer filament from plastic waste collected from shorelines, as shown in the video on the right. This demonstrates that the waste can be repurposed and can potentially help people as well as the environment.

The Plastic Bank sounds like an excellent plan in principle, but time will tell whether it works in practice. I very much hope that the bank is successful and that if there are any problems the system is modified to solve them.

The serious global problems of plastic pollution and poverty each need an effective solution (or more likely, many different solutions). Hopefully the Plastic Bank will help to reduce plastic waste and decrease the incidence of poverty, as it is intended to do.

© 2013 Linda Crampton

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Comments 66 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

I sure hope this idea is as good as it sounds in theory. What a great concept and one that is direly needed in this plastic-using society. Thanks for the info, Alicia.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Bill. Yes, that's exactly the way I feel. The concept is great, and the effort is badly needed. Hopefully it will be successful. Thanks for the comment.


maxoxam41 profile image

maxoxam41 2 years ago from USA

Why not as long as it serves the people. However how will they value a goo education? How many tons of plastic? Who will guarantee fairness?


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

These are all good points, maxoxam41. It will be interesting to learn more details about the project as it progresses. Thank you for the visit and the comment.


Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 2 years ago from southern USA

Fascinating, Alicia! I hope this plan works to help both issues. It is a sad state of affairs what has been done to the planet and plastic waste. Thank you for bringing awareness to these issues and the Plastic Bank. I have never heard of it before.

Up and more and sharing

Blessings, Faith Reaper


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the comment, the votes and the share, Faith. The way in which we treat the planet is certainly very sad. I hope the Plastic Bank helps both the environment and people in need. Best wishes to you, Faith.


jonnycomelately profile image

jonnycomelately 2 years ago from Tasmania

Quite apart from the technological concepts this Hub touches on, I love the bright, positive, hopeful spirit engendered.

The need of the Haitian people immediately come to mind.

Thanks for sharing this AliciaC.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you for the comment, jonnycomelately. I appreciate your visit. The Plastic Bank does offer the possibility of a bright future. I hope the organization is successful.


Ghaelach 2 years ago

Morning Alicia.

Great idea and a good way of cleaning our streets, parks and beaches not to mention the oceans.

They talk of making plastic a valuable product which would be great for the owners of the business and share holders, but will the price of what is inside these plastic containers also cost more. i.e food products, fluids, computers etc. They say they will exchange waist plastic for recycled plastic, that's ok for a washing-up dish in the kitchen but what about a plastic bottle containing milk. Will the price of milk not increase to the end user?.

Great hub with valuable info.

UP and sharing.

LOL Ghaelach

Europe 09:40am


DDE profile image

DDE 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Recycling Plastic and Reducing Poverty - The Plastic Bank sounds a wonderful concept another great thought from you always something more to think about from your work.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Ghaelach. That's another good point to consider! There are many questions that need to be answered about this project. Thank you very much for the comment, the vote and the share.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you, DDE. I always appreciate your visits!


Gail Meyers profile image

Gail Meyers 2 years ago from United States

I hope this works in both cases, Alicia. I am glad you have brought attention to this issue. This sounds like it would be a great solution!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Gail. I hope that the plan works in both cases, too! The bank could be very useful. Thanks for the comment.


heidithorne profile image

heidithorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

What an excellent idea! Thanks for sharing. Voted up & shared on Twitter!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the visit, the vote and the Twitter share, Heidi! I think the bank is an excellent idea, too.


word55 profile image

word55 2 years ago from Chicago

Thanks AliciaC, You're spreading the word very effectively. I do the plastics and aluminum. Hub was well expressed. Voted up!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for the comment and the vote, word55. I make sure that I recycle, too. Every little bit helps the planet!


EGamboa profile image

EGamboa 2 years ago from West Palm Beach

Definitely a win win; and surely repurposed plastic is better than double the amount of plastic, had it not been repurposed. Good article.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, EGamboa. Yes, I think that repurposing plastic is definitely worthwhile. Thanks for the comment.


tirelesstraveler profile image

tirelesstraveler 2 years ago from California

Very interesting concept. Certainly hope it works.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

I hope it works, too! Thanks for the visit, tirelesstraveler.


Jeremy Floyd profile image

Jeremy Floyd 2 years ago from Washington

That's a very awesome idea. I really hope that it catches on!


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

Good hub. The plastic bank sounds like a great idea. There are recycling centres in most major cities here, but not in rural area like where I live. We don't even have a rubbish collection service, but have to dump it ourselves so it's a waste of time separating plastics and other recyclables from the general rubbish.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Jeremy. I hope that the idea catches on, too. It could be very helpful!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Living in a rural area must be nice, Jodah, but it sounds very inconvenient to have to take your own garbage to the dump! Thanks for the comment.


drbj profile image

drbj 2 years ago from south Florida

The Plastic Bank is an innovative and worthwhile experiment. I hope it is successful. As you pointed out, 3-D printing firms could benefit greatly from this new source of plastics. Thanks for the information, Alicia.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for the visit, drbj. The Plastic Bank certainly is an innovative plan. Hopefully, recycling plastic will help people in financial need and help the plastic waste problem as well.


Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

It smells a little bad to me that this entrepreneur is opposed to paying the people who will actually be cleaning up the plastic, although he is not opposed to taking "corrupt money" himself in this for profit business. I'm sure the notoriously corrupt foreign governments of these plastic bank locales will find ways to deny these "farm credits" and so forth to the people that earn them. I'm betting that if he just paid then overnight you wouldn't find a shred of plastic anywhere. I agree with the proposition and I admire your skill in composing this hub, but I just don't trust this man's intentions. All the same great hub!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

That's a very interesting comment, Mel. I hope very much that you're wrong, but time will tell! I will be watching the progress of the organization closely to see how things work in practice. There are a lot of unknown factors in the process and many opportunities for problems. Thanks for sharing your viewpoint and for the comment.


jonnycomelately profile image

jonnycomelately 2 years ago from Tasmania

I can see the need for community involvement in such a scheme, with Co-operative principles and methods of working/accounting applied.

I am also an advocate of careful, honest, conscientious business practices, to ensure the flow in and out of finance works on a sound, sustainable basis.

Money, as I see it, is a very convenient and efficient "medium of exchange." Used honestly and wisely it can be the oil which lubricates a business process. I do not equate "business" or "business persons" as necessarily bad or corrupt.

I would like honest and astute business people to come forward and join WITH the ideal models and help to sustain them for the benefit of everyone.

What better than for a business person to build a reputation on fair play, apply such principles and build a life of which his/her great grandchildren can be rightly proud?


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

This is a beautiful comment, jonnycomelately. One of the founders of the bank has a background as a social entrepreneur, so I'm hoping for the best. A careful accounting and check-up process will be necessary, and the background of local helpers will have to be checked carefully. Although there is the potential for problems there is also the potential for so much good to come from this project!


bdegiulio profile image

bdegiulio 2 years ago from Massachusetts

Hi Linda. Let's hope this works. It sounds like a great idea. I will be curious to see how this develops in 2014 when they open the first center. Very interesting hub, great job. Voted up, shared, etc...


CrisSp profile image

CrisSp 2 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

All worth the try. Why not? Great, educational hub. Voting up and passing it along.


Vellur profile image

Vellur 2 years ago from Dubai

The plastic bank is a great idea and I really hope it works. Great hub, interesting and informative. Voted up.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Bill. Yes, I'm very interested in seeing how the first centre works, too! Thank you for the comment, the vote and the share.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Yes, I definitely think the idea is worth trying! Thank you very much for the visit, the vote and the share, CrisSp.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Vellur. Thank you very much for the comment and the vote. I agree - the bank is a great idea. I hope it's successful.


pramodgokhale profile image

pramodgokhale 2 years ago from Pune( India)

Yes,

Hub is interesting and plastic bank is really fascinating idea.It will generate wealth and employment.

In India , people collect plastic garbage but recycling contractors do not pay as per market price but some of your ideas and solutions can be replicated in India.

We can make our surrounding clean and Eco-friendly.

pramodgokhale


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for commenting and for sharing the information, pramodgokhale. I hope the recycling plan goes well wherever it's tried, including India.


MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 2 years ago from South Africa

We have them down here as well. I feel so sorry for the people collecting plastic in garbage bags and wish the municipality could force us to put plastic waste in separate bags, as they do in some countries in Europe. And I wish some companies or individuals could provide transport for these collectors. Most of all I wish I have had the influence , time and financial means to assist the collectors in their honorable efforts to earn their daily bread. If I ever write a hub about this I will link it to this one of your. Thank you, Alicia :)


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Martie. Providing aid for plastic collectors in the form of transport would certainly be useful. The collectors should definitely be helped in their efforts to earn an honourable living, as you say. Collecting plastic is a valuable way to help the planet. The collectors must be compensated appropriately for their work! Thanks for the comment, Martie.


aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

Trash is big business, especially in other parts of the world, because we routinely ship it there. The US, China, and India have the largest deposits of trash, and spend the most money to ship it elsewhere This new organization will be making a lot of money, but I am glad that they are going to try to give back to the communities.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Deb. Shipping trash to another country for disposal has always seemed like a strange idea to me! I'm glad that the Plastic Bank is going to try to help people, too. If all goes according to plan, the organization should be able to help people as well as the environment.


HSchneider 2 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

Great Hub, AliciaC. This sounds like a wonderful idea. The amount of discarded plastic we generate definitely wreaks havoc on our environment.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, HSchneider. Thanks for the comment. I agree - the amount of plastic waste that humans produce is very worrying.


Goodpal profile image

Goodpal 2 years ago

Plastic Bank and recycling is certainly a good initiative. However, to be environmentally effective the recycling of plastic has to go in parallel with discouraging use of plastic and replacing plastic products with natural fibers products (jute, for example).

Above all, we need to have a serious look at high-consumption lifestyle of people and how it can be rationalized.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

I agree, Goodpal. Recycling plastic is good, but as you say, we also need to replace the use of plastic with materials that are safer for the environment. Thank you for the comment.


jonnycomelately profile image

jonnycomelately 2 years ago from Tasmania

When I was a kid we did not use "disposables." Milk came in bottles, delivered to the door each morning. Mum washed out the bottle diligently, ready for collection next morning. No one suffered from any disease spread by milk.

Bread was purchased uncut. It was well baked, kept in the open air, but stored in a bin, which kept it from going moldy so quickly. Stale bread was made into various delicious meals, like bread and butter pudding; bread pudding (which contained lots of dried fruit and spices to hide any lingering stale flavour); Queen of Pudding, which used bread crumbs mixed into an egg custard with vanila essence, then topped with strawberry jam and meringue and baked in the oven; very little got wasted, this was genuine recycling.

There was no plastic film for wrapping sandwiches (school lunch), because it had not yet been invented. We used the greaseproof paper out of the cornflakes packet. Another example of recycling.

Plastic potato sacks had not been invented. Jute sacking was used. When no longer in one piece it could be cut up to make smaller bags, or added as a blanket for the dog's bed.

We have become a complex, complicated, demanding society, using up ready resources of the planet like it only had 100 years life left in it.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you for sharing your interesting memories, jonnycomelately. I too remember the days of glass milk bottles being delivered to homes and then being washed for pick-up. There have been some wonderful advances since I was a child, such as improved medical treatments, but it does seem that we have lost a lot, too. We are certainly using the planet's resources at an alarming rate, as you say. It's a sad situation.


Goodpal profile image

Goodpal 2 years ago

I see your point, johnnycomelately.

Over-packaging to make goods look is a major consumption of resources. Media commercials and "health" advisers create an atmosphere that turn needs into wants and often overplay certain facts. For example, who is going to disagree if packaging is justified in terms of hygiene; convenience is another evergreen argument for modification of consumer goods. Hence, we see too much processing and too much packaging of every consumable item.

Given the will it is possible to create a system where people go to farms and buy fresh fruits/veg without packaging - the same can be applied to bread and other daily consumables. This will simplify life, but the economists will complain because the economy will shrink and give them nightmares of looming depression. This is the vicious cycle of having an unsustainable economic system based purely on ever increasing consumption.

However, there is a way out if we heed the latest research in development models. Professor Amartya Sen's capability approach to development is perhaps the most popular among them. Until then, we have to be happy with whatever recycling we can do.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for an interesting comment, Goodpal.


Glenn Stok profile image

Glenn Stok 2 years ago from Long Island, NY

The worst thing about the plastic waste is how animals think it's food, and die from it with stomachs full of small plastic items.

I hope to see the combination of 3D Printing with Plastic Recycling continue to grow. 3D Printing may provide a low-cost method of repurposing recycled plastic, rather than letting it go into our oceans and landfills.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Glenn. Yes, the effect of plastic waste on animals is extremely worrying. I hope the plan to use recycled plastic in 3D printers is successful at reducing pollution. Thanks for the visit.


jonnycomelately profile image

jonnycomelately 2 years ago from Tasmania

Here is a plea for anyone out there who knows anything about fungi to contact me.

I am very interested in finding out which fungi might begin the process of decay in common plastic wrappings.

If you are a professor or know someone who can help me, please, I would be most grateful for any information.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Good luck with your quest, jonnycomelately. Some fungi can break down certain types of plastic, to a greater or lesser degree, and so can some bacteria.


jonnycomelately profile image

jonnycomelately 2 years ago from Tasmania

Thanks AliciaC. I am currently in South India, where there is lots of work going on in various fields of study, all centered on rescuing our planet from over-use/abuse of our resources. The more people devoted to this the better, and I am sure that if we share information it will happen even more quickly.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

I didn't know that you were in India at the moment, jonnycomelately. It sounds like great work is being done there. I hope that the effort eventually helps the planet significantly.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

What a fascinating and important topic. I had no idea of the progress being made in recycling plastics. I know much more needs to be done, but hopefully the recycling businesses will continue to expand their operations. Great Hub. Theresa


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for the visit and the comment, Theresa. Yes, the recycling of plastics is a very important topic. I hope that the research and practical efforts proceed rapidly. The planet and the people living here need a solution to the plastic waste problem and to poverty.


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 2 years ago from California

What a great idea! I am so thankful to have run across this hub today--such an important issue!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Audrey. I think the topic is an important issue, too! Thank you for the visit and the comment.


ologsinquito profile image

ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

It's certainly good to have plastic reused, and if it can help people at the same time that's a wonderful idea.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

I agree, ologsinquito! Meeting both goals at the same time is a great idea.


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 2 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

We try our best to reduce the amount of plastic at home. recycling and reusing them helps a lot.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

That's great to hear, jpcmc! Recycling and reusing are important strategies to reduce plastic waste. I wish more people would do these things.

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