What If Plastic Were A Currency?

I’m incredibly thankful for having been fortunate enough to attend the SociaLIGHT Conference in Toronto, the past three years.

Not only are SociaLIGHT and its founder, Theresa Laurico, responsible for introducing the concept of social entrepreneurship to me, each trip to the Conference introduces me to many inspiring people using the power and principles of entrepreneurship to make a difference in the world.

This year was no different: twenty speakers joined over a thousand delegates to share their stories of how they’re dedicating their lives to doing things that must be done.

The day after the Conference, I got to spend some time with Shaun Frankson, Co-Founder of an award winning for-profit social enterprise called the Plastic Bank.

The story of The Plastic Bank and their mission aren’t just things to be thankful for, they’re things to share so they can start spreading.

David Katz, Founder of The Plastic Bank came up with the idea to create a system that empowers people in need to exchange plastic waste as a currency, to help reduce global poverty while keeping plastic out of the oceans. They officially launching the first of many Plastic Banks on December 5th in Peru with plans to immediately expand throughout Latin America and Asia in 2015.

According to Frankson:
“The Plastic Bank’s mandate is to provide a ladder of opportunity for the world’s poor to ascend from poverty by providing a reliable income. The exchange process for our recycled “Social Plastic®” improves the life of a disadvantaged person while cleaning our planet. The goal of The Plastic Bank is to lead the movement towards a worldwide demand for the use of Social Plastic® in everyday products. The higher the demand becomes, the greater the social impact towards helping the world’s poor. Much of the world’s ocean plastic starts on land in developing countries. The Plastic Bank has created a system to prevent ocean bound plastic waste from being dumped into oceans, rivers and waterways by making it too valuable to throw away.”

They’re story is truly amazing.

Social from the Start
And they’re social in more ways than one: they’re driven by a social mission and have used social media to provide pathways for their success. Before they even opened their first location, they were able to attract over 350,000 Facebook fans and over 110,000 Twitter followers to support their Social Plastic® Movement.

What else makes them remarkable is how they continue to find ways to expand the reach of their impact. Plastic Bank easily could have called it a day after recycling 20,000lbs of shoreline plastic during their pilot project. But, from their perspective, simply cleaning the world’s oceans of its plastic isn’t enough.

Social entrepreneurs don’t think in simple terms. They need big, audacious goals to drive them forward. Plastic Bank is no different.

From Waste Product to Product Creation
They didn’t simply recycle those 20,000lbs of shoreline plastic, they used it to successfully 3D print the world’s first item from recycled ocean plastic. They didn’t stop there, either. Instead, they took this accomplishment and what they learned from it and shared it with the world. They’ve made their technology open source for the world to use and improve upon.

What if, if you want to improve the world, you’ve got to invite the world to take part in the action?

The Plastic Bank’s Extruder is open sourced to encourage individuals, corporations and organizations to become part of a global solution to poverty and pollution. The more the global community participates, the more they will become aware of the issues and create solutions.

The Plastic Bank believes that 3D printing technology will have a tremendous role in helping to reduce both plastic pollution and poverty. 3D printing enables the products to be produced locally, while adding great value through customization. “This is something we have been working towards from the beginning and to be able to make this announcement so soon is truly remarkable.” said Katz.

Frankson adds:
“We are quickly approaching the day that 3D printing becomes as common as owning a household computer. By acting proactively, and thinking sustainably before it becomes mainstream, we have the opportunity to significantly decrease the environmental impact of 3D printing. Our planet already has over 9 trillion pounds of plastic sitting on the earth, waiting to be re-used. When we reveal value in plastic it becomes too valuable to be waste.”

Global Launch and Impact
On December 5th, The Plastic Bank launched its first collection centre in Lima, Peru with many more to come. With the launch of the first collection center, The Plastic Bank is transforming plastic waste into a currency. This will provide a reliable source of income and a consistent fair trade rate to those who recycle plastics for a living. This means that these families will have more money for basic necessities and the opportunity to provide a better future for their families, while making plastic waste to valuable to throw away and end up in our oceans.

It is estimated in Latin America and the Caribbean that approximately 4 million people derive their livelihoods from the recovery of recyclable materials such as paper, cardboard, plastic and metal. In these regions, there is very little tax revenue to support waste management so it is common for plastic to be raked up, burnt or discarded into the streets and ocean bound waterways. This waste plastic makes its way through our waterways and ends up in the ocean gyres, causing mass devastation to the ocean environment and aquatic life.

“Social Plastic® is going to change the way the worldviews plastic and help to reduce the amount of virgin plastic in the world” sai Katz. “Our mission is to create value and a market for Social Plastic®, enabling millions of people around the globe to lift themselves from poverty.”

“When consumers look for the value of a product, it’s important that more and more people include the environmental and social impact into that value equation. Sustainable products with a social impact have the potential to turn businesses into a force for good,” claims Frankson. “It all starts with the consumer. When consumers ask long enough for sustainable products with a positive social impact and make buying decisions based on those factors, the culture of the world and the priorities of businesses will change. I envision a future where sustainability and genuine social impact are requirements for business success.”

With the December 5th, 2014 launch of the first Plastic Bank collection center, The Plastic Bank is celebrating the important role these recyclers have in protecting the environment and creating sustainable communities. Their role is paramount in building a stronger, more educated and economically stable community. They need to be recognized and compensated fairly for their efforts and contributions. With the success of the first Plastic Bank collection centre, The Plastic Bank will continue its expansion in the next coming year throughout Latin America, Southeast Asia and locations with an abundance of poverty and plastic waste.

Get Social with Plastic Bank’s Social Mission
Since Plastic Bank relies on the demand of consumers you can participate in making their social mission a success by sharing their story and purchasing products made from Social Plastic®. LUSH cosmetics have purchased the first run of our recycled Social Plastic® pellets to use to manufacture their Sea Spray bottles and other large brands are now requesting to do the same.

Producers listen to consumers. What if, we can create a large enough demand for Social Plastic products so they’re no longer just a good story, they’re the norm?

Originally published at www.linkedin.com on December 8, 2014.

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