How social recycling is saving the ocean and improving lives
Minutes to read: 4 minutes
A portrait of a collection community member with a plastic bottle in front of the beach in Port Said
Plastic has been an integral part of our daily lives and a world without it seems unimaginable. From 1950 to 2017, the world produced a whopping 8.3 trillion kilograms of plastic. Of this, about 6.3 trillion kilograms have become waste1. Researchers predict that we will be living with 26 trillion kilograms of plastic waste by 20502. This means that there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean if not enough action is taken to solve the problem, endangering over 800 species3, including us.
With the urgency of the situation, 193 UN member states have agreed to start negotiations in early 2023 to create a legally binding global treaty to curb plastic pollution. This treaty is expected to gather all nations to address the full lifecycle of plastic, including production, design, and disposal, as well as the design of reusable and recyclable products and materials4.Private organizations are also contributing their efforts to turn the tide on plastic pollution. The social enterprise Plastic Bank, for example, drives a purposeful movement that is stopping ocean plastic and alleviating poverty through social recycling. For Plastic Bank, it is important to understand that most of the plastic waste that leaks into our ocean comes from areas of poverty. To solve pollution, we have to look upstream and alleviate poverty.
A collection community member weighs his plastic at the Collection Branch Medeline in Denpasar, Bali Indonesia
Making recycling social
Plastic Bank improves the lives of those who collect plastic waste by turning the material into a currency that can provide access to secure income and life-improving benefits. Thus making recycling social.
The journey begins with the social enterprise’s collection community members who gather plastic waste in areas within 50 kilometers of coastlines and waterways. Members bring the material to local collection branches and receive an above-market rate for collected plastic, which is convertible into cash or digital tokens that can be used for health, work and life insurance, digital connectivity, and social and fintech services.
Every exchange is recorded through the PlasticBank® app, powered by Alchemy™, a blockchain-secured platform that enables a fully traceable recycling process, secures savings and income for collection community members, and ensures audit-ready impact reporting.
As Plastic Bank reveals value in plastic waste, millions of kilograms of plastic have been prevented from flowing into the ocean. The plastic waste collected by its members is brought to recycling facilities where the material is processed into flakes and pellets, and reborn as Social Plastic® feedstock.
Social Plastic® is introduced to the global manufacturing supply chain for reuse in new products and packaging – reducing the need for virgin plastic, enabling a circular economy for plastic, and making lasting environmental, social, and economic impact.
Collection branch owner with member recording plastic exchange on Alchemy™
Within the communities in which Plastic Bank operates, independent plastic collectors and junkshops in the informal recycling industry have been given the opportunity to join the Plastic Bank social recycling network and gain better social and financial inclusion. As of January 2023, Plastic Bank has stopped 72.1 million kilograms of plastic from flowing into the ocean, or the equivalent of 3.6 billion plastic bottles, and helped 28,800 collection community members find a path out of poverty – increasing their average monthly income by up to 33%.
In addition to life-improving benefits, Plastic Bank launches social and community programs in its collection communities in Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Africa, with the support of its global partners. Among its social programs are distributing bursaries and tablets to the children of its collection members to support their online learning, grocery vouchers and meal kits, smartphones, and providing digital wallet accounts, and basic business and financial literacy as well as sustainability and recycling trainings.
With Alchemy™ at the heart of Plastic Bank’s ecosystem, the company provides real-time, audit-ready traceability. This is made possible by certified PlasticBank® app-enabled locations throughout its supply chain, from input to output. The app is used to record the details of every exchange from Plastic Bank’s registered collection members to its collection branches, all the way to the processor who ships the materials for manufacturing. When the branch delivers the collected plastic to the processing partner, Alchemy™ and the Plastic Bank team validate the material received with the app recordings to unlock the bonus payments throughout the collection chain.
Smartphone distribution for members at Plastic Bank Collection Branch Sahrul in Bali, Indonesia
Supporting collection communities
Every single human being who is pained by the degradation of our ocean and acts to prevent and reverse it is invited to partner with Plastic Bank. It offers partnership opportunities for individuals and businesses alike.
Plastic Bank’s Impact Program allows everyone to purchase plastic collection credits to offset their plastic footprint. The Supporter Program, on the other hand, is designed for businesses and brands that aim to make annual or monthly contributions to support plastic recycling and collection community members. Meanwhile, the Social Plastic® Program empowers 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 communities in vulnerable coastal areas. To date, Plastic Bank has collaborated with over 200 partners with the shared vision of enlivening a world without waste.
Plastic flowing into the ocean is undoubtedly one of the most pressing issues that humanity is facing. We need a movement of people making appropriate daily decisions to create true change.
Visit plasticbank.com to learn how you can powerfully stand forward to become part of the solution.
This article was originally published on impablog.com.
1. “A Whopping 91 Percent of Plastic Isn’t Recycled,” National Geographic, December 20, 2018, https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/whopping-91-percent-plastic-isnt-recycled
2. Giorgia Guglielmi, “In the next 30 years, we’ll make four times more plastic waste than we ever have,” Science Mag, July 19, 2017, https://www.science.org/content/article/next-30-years-we-ll-make-four-times-more-plastic-waste-we-ever-have
3.“UN report finds marine debris is harming more than 800 species, costing countries millions,” UN.org, December 5, 2016, https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2016/12/marinedebris/
4. “UNEA Launches Negotiation of Plastic Pollution Treaty,” Science Body on Chemicals, SDG Knowledge Hub, March 10, 2022, https://sdg.iisd.org/news/unea-launches-negotiation-of-plastic-pollution-treaty-science-body-on-chemicals/