Houses by the riverPhoto by Jordan Opel on Unsplash.

The global plastic pollution crisis has evolved from a social sustainability issue to a serious environmental problem in recent years. It is estimated that 75 to 199 billion kilograms of plastic waste is found in our ocean1, and it continues to increase at an alarming rate. The plastic problem affects marine life and human health, as plastic particles can find their way into our food supply.

Poverty as a Global Challenge to Maintain Social Sustainability

Another pressing issue that humanity is facing is poverty. Based on a report by the World Bank Group, 8 percent of the global population is living in extreme poverty and survives with just US$2.19 per day. Meanwhile, 23 percent are sustaining on less than US$3.65 per day and 47 percent are living on less than US$6.852. While we have made great strides in beating poverty since 1990, the COVID-19 pandemic slowed down the progress.

At first glance, poverty and plastic pollution may seem like two totally unrelated issues.  But that is far from the truth: in fact, understanding how these issues are connected is essential to creating a future of social sustainability for our planet.

From investigating causes to exploring solutions, let’s discuss how plastic pollution and poverty are intertwined and learn how we can seize opportunities today that make lasting change.

Collection member at Plastic Bank collection branch

Social Sustainability & Poverty and Plastic Consumption

When making purchases, many low-income communities across the globe rely on economical options often packed in single-use plastic, such as water bottles, shampoo sachets, and more. This leads to the overconsumption of cheap disposable goods, which contributes to the global environmental crisis affecting us all. 

Unlike wealthier nations, developing countries often lack plastic recycling programs and infrastructure, and have inadequate waste management systems. This creates a huge amount of single-use plastic left in the environment, eventually finding its way to our ocean.

The only way to break this unfavorable cycle is to provide low-income communities with access to waste management infrastructure and education to make more informed decisions about plastic consumption, while simultaneously empowering them to pave a path out of poverty.

Turning Plastic Waste Into Worth

The pressure to create social sustainability and address the plastic problem is increasing. Researchers predict that we will be living with 26 trillion kilograms of plastic waste by 2050 if sufficient action is not taken to solve the problem. 

With the urgency of the situation, governments and private organizations are making efforts to address poverty and plastic pollution. Plastic Bank, for example, helps solve these problems by turning plastic waste into a currency. The social enterprise empowers its collection community members in vulnerable coastal regions to exchange plastic for secure income and life-improving benefits, including access to health, work, and life insurance, digital connectivity, and social and banking services. In Plastic Bank’s model, social impact drives environmental impact. 

Plastic Bank collection member Samsul Arifin
Samsul Arifin, Plastic Bank collection community member in Indonesia.

Plastic Bank Additional Actions to Maintain Social Sustainability

In addition to life-improving benefits, Plastic Bank launches social and community social sustainability programs in its collection communities in Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Africa, with the support of its global partners. Its social programs include distributing grocery vouchers and meal kits, digital connectivity and smartphones, providing digital wallet accounts, basic business and financial literacy, as well as sustainability and plastic recycling trainings. 

One such collection member whose life is improved is Samsul Arifin from Plastic Bank’s collection community in Indonesia. Every week, Samsul collects an average of 35 kilograms of plastic waste around his community in Densapar, Bali, Indonesia. Aside from earning additional income that helps him provide basic necessities for his family, Samsul is able to support his child who almost dropped out of school by stopping ocean plastic. Along with other collection community members, Samsul received BPJS health insurance and education about plastic pollution. 

Social Sustainability to Create New Life for Old Plastic

So far, Plastic Bank has stopped millions of kilograms of plastic from entering our ocean. But what does Plastic Bank do with the collected material? The social enterprise helps ensure that ocean-bound plastic waste is given a new life. The plastic waste collected by its members is brought to recycling facilities. From here, the material is processed into flakes and pellets, and reborn as Social Plastic® feedstock. 

Social Plastic® feedstock is introduced to the global manufacturing supply chain for reuse in new products and packaging. This reduces the need for virgin plastic, enables a circular economy for plastic, and makes environmental, social and economic impact.

How can you help alleviate poverty and reduce ocean plastic

To make a difference in collection communities located in vulnerable coastal areas, and prevent the leakage of plastic waste into the ocean, you can begin by making contributions. With Plastic Bank’s Impact Program, you can purchase plastic collection credits to offset your plastic footprint. Discover how much plastic you are consuming through the Plastic Footprint Calculator.  

If you own a small business, you can sign up for the Supporter Program, where you can contribute annually or monthly to support plastic recycling and collection community members to create social sustainability. The social enterprise’s Social Plastic® Program, on the other hand, allows businesses to integrate ethically processed plastic feedstock into their manufacturing supply chain. All partnerships help stop ocean plastic and alleviate poverty by funding ethical collection in communities across vulnerable coastal areas.

To find out more on how you can get involved, visit now!

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