Cheers for The Plastic Bank
I fell in love with The Plastic Bank because I like solutions that solve several problems simultaneously.
Plastic Bank is a sustainable way to stop ocean plastic pollution before it happens by helping the world’s poorest people help themselves. What are the keywords here?
• Sustainable: The Plastic Bank program will go on by itself because it is self-supporting. It is profitable for all stakeholders who therefore have personal incentives to keep it going.
• Before it happens: Cleaning anything the size of the ocean is a chump’s game. The Plastic Bank program deals with ocean plastic before it becomes “ocean” plastic.
• Help themselves: Altruism is great, but doesn’t last. Charity is demeaning. By giving people the opportunity to help themselves, the Plastic Bank program is fundamentally better than contingent and temporary handouts.
So why did I fall in love with Plastic Bank, an organization dedicated to eliminating ocean plastics?
First, Plastic Bank makes a good case that ocean plastics are really bad for the global environment, which means for me and mine.
All that plastic gets into the food chain and ends up in my kids’ food. Bad
Boy, did they make the case that there is a lot of plastic to get into the food chain.Second, it was how they go about eliminating ocean plastics.
Most programs to clean up the world are well intentioned, but hopelessly unsustainable and therefore useless.
Assembling people to collect trash is a great way to spend time with your kids and bond with neighbors, but no way to clean the ocean. There is too much plastic and it just keeps coming. How much can you clean up? How many weekends are you willing to devote? Your weekends times that volume will do how much to solve the problem?
So the people at Plastic Bank asked, “What if plastic were money, real money, exchangeable for real stuff like food and shoes and school notebooks?” After all, if you live in the right place, you can recycle plastic bottles. What if we made the bottles equivalent to cash?
So the Plastic Bank created the concept of plastic money that can be spent at any participating store just like other currencies – except that the storekeeper has to weigh it instead of looking at the denomination printed on it. The shopkeeper “pays” the plastic up the supply chain to a central point where the Plastic Bank purchases it for cash and sells it for recycling.
Who uses the Plastic Bank’s plastic money? Not people like you. You are probably required to sort plastics from glass and cans anyway. Even if you recycle plastic bottles, you are probably rich enough not to need the pennies per bottle.
In Haiti, however, no one has jobs and no one has cash, but there’s lots of plastic lying about. Being able to monetize plastic trash to buy necessities is huge. It means food, clothing, school supplies. It means business for small shopkeepers, for local manufacturers of household necessities. It means increased sales for wholesalers in Port au Prince. It means the creation of an entire economy and broad-based participation.
And plastic trash disappears from the landscape leaving nothing for the first powerful storms of the rainy season to wash into the ocean. Ocean plastic has been averted at the source.