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Plastic Bank treating plastic like currency to tackle waste and poverty

ZDNet logo ZDNet 5/24/2019 Asha Barbaschow
plastic-bank.jpg © ZDNet plastic-bank.jpg

Humanity is racing to produce over 350 billion kilograms of plastic this year alone, and between 8-12 billion kilograms is likely going to flow into the ocean to meet the 150 billion kilograms that is already there.

According to David Katz, most of the plastic waste is coming from areas of extreme poverty.

In 2013, Katz alongside Shaun Frankston founded Vancouver-based Plastic Bank with the idea of tackling two problems: Waste plastics in the ocean and poverty.

Speaking at IBM Think in Sydney during its Good Tech keynote, Katz detailed Plastic Bank's mission to stop ocean plastic by gathering a billion people together to monetise waste while improving lives.

"I support straw bans, certainly we have to be able to reduce single-use material, that is imperative ... but we have to know that most of the plastic that turns up in the ocean is coming from areas like [Port-au-Prince in Haiti] -- one of the poorest countries in the world," Katz explained.

"If you live in abject poverty as much of the world does, existing for under $2 a day ... what possible consideration could you give to recycling? If you've got no door, no floor, your children are dying from a preventable disease, and you have no idea where your next meal is coming from and I come to you and I say, 'You should recycle'.

"Have you ever tried to win an argument on Facebook? Nor can I convince the world's poor to go out and store their waste."

He said that's exactly the condition that created the Plastic Bank, saying the solution lies in the problem itself.

SEE: The 5 greenest tech companies in 2019 (TechRepublic)

"We're an ecosystem business model that reveals the value inherent in the petroleum product that is sitting and polluting the environment below our feet," he said.

The Plastic Bank is now a chain of stores for the "ultra poor". Katz said it allows those that make under $2 a day to purchase anything in the store using plastic garbage as payment.

"We've monetised waste and in our stores you can pay for school tuition, medical insurance, access to pharmaceuticals, Wi-Fi, cell phone minutes, sustainable cooking fuel, high-efficiency stoves and we continue to race to add everything that the world's poor need and can't afford all available now using plastic garbage as payment -- how simple," he explained.

SEE: Green tech initiatives: Best practices and breakthroughs (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Sharing the story of a "recycling entrepreneur" from Haiti known as Lisa, Katz said she makes a living by collecting material and returning it to the Plastic Bank where it's weighed and the value is deposited into an online account -- a blockchain-based banking application.

"Because it's an online and digital account, she's safe from robbery. And now she has a savings account, she has an asset. Now Lisa has a new sense of worth and of course the plastic has a renewed sense of value," he continued.

"Inside of all of that, of course, a blockchain-based banking application that allows for the safe, authentic transfer of value around the world. She can deposit waste in Port-au-Prince and her mother can withdraw cooking fuel or cash across the city."

Plastic Bank is also partnering with pharmaceutical companies, to allow small clinics with a scale and a smartphone, to provide members access to doctor care in exchange for plastic. It's a similar story for accessing tuition.

"All of that administered through the blockchain," Katz said.

Plastic Bank uses IBM Blockchain technology, delivered on a private cloud by managed service provider Cognition Foundry, powered by IBM LinuxONE. Blockchain is used to track the entire cycle of recycled plastic from collection, credit, and compensation through delivery to companies for re-use.

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