Plastic as a currency - transforming our oceans and lives.

Published on 10. January 2019

Plastic as-a-currency is transforming our oceans and lives 

A new social initiative, "The Plastic Bank', has made it possible to convert plastic into money by using Blockchain-based token technology, creating a new global and social currency.

When someone is told to make their mark on the world, it is usually meant in a positive way, to achieve, flourish and grow in society. However, collectively as a race, it’s increasingly obvious that we are making a mark which is detrimental to the environment. Now is the time to clean up our act as today, the global plastic problem is everybody's concern. What is being done to fight it? 

Almost everyone is likely to know the pictures of the Pacific rubbish stream. The plastic plague in the Pacific, "Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch" (GPGP), is endlessly growing. It has reached four times the size of UK and there are at least four more rubbish swirls in the oceans.

Meanwhile, a NASA video shows how the rubbish pile is formed around oceans. There are shocking images of sea turtles suffocating on plastic straws and dolphins trapped in fishing nets. Researchers announced that more plastic than fish will swim in the sea by 2050. It’s a statistic that is concerning both for environmentalists and citizens alike. 


The UK is set to ban all sales of single-use plastics

In the fight against plastic waste, the UK sets to ban all single-use plastic straws and cotton swabs. The newly proposed ban follows the successful implementation of a plastic bag charge and a micro bead ban, both of which produced noticeable decreases of plastic in England's waters. The past efforts by the UK to reduce plastic use have resulted in significant and measurable decreases in waste across the country.

Particularly dangerous for humans and the environment are micro plastics. The microscopic plastic particles pass through sewage systems into rivers and oceans and end up in the food we consume. Recently, micro plastics were discovered in the human body for the first time. It's time to sound the alarm over this ecological crisis and take the necessary measures.  

There are several projects worldwide that have taken up the fight against plastic waste. The best known is "The Ocean Cleanup” project. Company founder, Boyan Slat, has been collecting plastic floating in the Pacific since September 2018 with a marine vacuum cleaner. At the moment, the ambitious project is stalling, as plastic parts from the device are still slipping through the vacuum. It shows that preventing plastic from ever reaching the ocean in the first place is our best hope of keeping the ocean plastic-free. 


From rubbish collectors to raw material suppliers

The "Plastic Bank," founded in 2013, is a social enterprise that takes a different approach in the campaign against plastic waste. The Plastic Bank views "plastic no longer as garbage and people who collect plastic, not as garbage collectors, but as raw material suppliers", explains Shaun Frankson, one of the founders of the Plastic Bank during this year’s "Me" convention in Stockholm.

The model, pays people to pick up plastic waste and deliver them to recycling markets across parts of Asia. The collectors can then, in turn, recieve and also draw credit to buy essential items such as school materials, cookery tools and more. 

The ambitious goal is to help one billion people to turn waste into money while improving the quality of life in areas of high poverty and plastic waste. To achieve this, Plastic Bank offers a unified, above-market price for plastic waste which encourages the collection of plastic waste. Individuals who collect our plastic can exchange it for money, items or services" says David Katz, Plastic Bank co-founder.

After that, the plastic goes to a recycling center and, finally, the company sells the material to corporate clients, who pay a premium over the commodity price.

Haiti: 3 million tons of plastic waste

In Haiti, for example, where the team around Katz and Frankson has already set up 32 Plastic Bank branches, more than 2,000 garbage collectors are involved in the local program and have collected three million kilos of plastic waste since 2014. Since the end of 2016, there is also a pilot branch of the Plastic Bank in the Philippines in Manila City. There, the company is working with a local trash collectors' association to create a collaborative model. This should both increase the amount of waste collected and improve the living conditions of the collectors. According to a study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the Philippines is the third largest plastic waste producer in the world, outclassed only by China and Indonesia.

The plastic collected by Plastic Bank is recycled and sold as "Social Plastic" at best prices.

How exactly does Blockchain fit into this? To turn a simple idea into a worldwide movement, the Plastic Bankers use Blockchain technology...

Blockchain: the reinvention of the internet

Blockchain, Cryptocurrency and Bitcoin. The online payment system which works without the co-operation from banks has been the highlight of many discussions after rising the prices in 2017. Since the beginning of 2018, Bitcoin has lost almost 70 percent of its value and has panicked the crypto market. Even though Blockchain was developed in conjunction with Bitcoin, the currency is extremely volatile and sceptics are concerned if it will ever have a ‘hey-day’ again.

In the case of the Plastic Bank, Blockchain has a tangible benefit for the plastic collectors: services such as Internet access, food or medical aid can be assigned through the technology. The fact that there is no "real" money transaction is especially helpful for some of the world’s poorest where carrying physical money poses a risk.

Does it work?

Alongside the huge social following (the bank has already accumulated more than a million likes on Facebook), the Plastic Bank has over 2,000 collectors in Haiti alone resulting in 7 million pounds of plastic waste recycled. It's an initative that continues to make technological progress each year.

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