Harnessing the blockchain to help save our oceans and reduce poverty

  • 05 Jun
  • 2 min

Using the blockchain to provide a safe, transparent way to monetize the collection of plastic waste, Plastic Bank is on a double mission: to protect our oceans and provide a regular source of income to people in some of the world's poorest areas.

It has been estimated than more than 8 million tons of plastic are dumped in our oceans every year: that's the equivalent of a truck-load of plastic waste thrown into the sea every minute of every day. At that pace, unless we take corrective action, scientists calculate that there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050. Meanwhile a recent World Bank report has revealed that 80% of ocean plastic pollution originates from inadequate land-based solid waste management, underlining that the areas which produce the most marine plastic waste, including the Philippines capital Manila, are among the world's poorer regions, where people understandably prioritize survival over the environment. So might digital technology help to meet these two great challenges facing humanity – i.e. reduce poverty (which affects close to 36% of the world's population) and at the same time help safeguard the health of our planet? This is precisely the aim of Shaun Frankson, co-founder of Plastic Bank, who came to present his solution at the OECD Forum in Paris on 29 May. This 'social plastic' company, set up in March 2013 in the wake of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, encourages and enables people living below the poverty line to collect plastic waste in exchange for money or credits which allow them to meet urgent needs such as recharging a mobile phone, accessing the Internet, buying drinking water, paying for medical insurance or settling school fees. At collection centres in Sao Paulo orManila, the plastic brought in is weighed and remuneration calculated accordingly. The payments are sent via a mobile app developed in partnership with IBM, which uses blockchain technology in order to ensure the safest and most reliable way of transferring the money or credits in countries where corruption and criminality are rife. The companies that are partnering with Plastic Bank – Shell, Henkel, Starbucks and Marks &Spencer – buy the 'social plastic' at above-market rates, which enables Plastic Bank to "transfer as much value as possible into the hands of the plastic collectors", paying them a fair price and maintaining price stability, which differentiates the Vancouver-based company from other intermediaries. Plastic Bank ploughs all its profits back into the organisation and strives to channel as much wealth as possible into the local economy of the communities in which the collectors are based. Meanwhile the basic aim of the Social Plastic movement is to attack the problem at its source by encouraging a more civically-minded approach to product production and consumption and working to make the concept of the circular economy take root inside major corporations.

By Oriane Esposito