The Plastic Bank – Could waste plastic help reduce poverty?

The amount of plastic currently being produced is colossal and plastic waste is now "out of control"

In 2010, approximately 300 million tons of plastics were made. Half of that amount was used just once before being thrown away. Plastic is polluting our oceans and waterways, littering our urban and rural landscapes, and endangering wildlife and the eco-system throughout the world. It is both an ecological disaster story and a veritable health threat. Every region is affected as ocean currents carry plastic waste and plastic "nurdles" (plastic raw material pellets) to the beaches to the ends of the earth.Plastics and toxins have entered the food chain. Humans are at the top of that food chain.

But what if all of that waste plastic was gathered up and used as a type of currency, and used as a means to help reduce poverty? What if someone created a recycling project with a difference? What if it were an environmental project with a social and economic impact in those regions in most need like developing nations?

Someone has come up with just such a project. It is called The Plastic Bank.

The idea behind “The Plastic Bank” – the brainchild of David Katz – calls for the collection and exchange of waste plastics as a currency to help reduce global poverty. Plastic currencies could even be implemented in the near future. And the use of recycled plastic in eco-friendly would gain the label Social Plastic™.

David Katz has always had a dream. This dream was to bring hope to and liberate the minds of the world's most disadvantaged and to rid the world of ocean plastic. His inspiration came from his travels, seeing beaches with more plastic than sand and people living in extreme poverty without hope. Katz realized that not only do the people of the world need hope, but that the earth itself is also struggling. It was further reinforced when he witnessed a profoundly moving video of albatrosses choking on plastic on Midway Island.

Katz’s true "aha" moment came in May 2013 at Singularity University, the mission of which is to educate, inspire and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges. After this life-changing event, Katz’s vision was suddenly clear. He realized he simply needed to “Reveal Value in Plastic” and make it become too valuable to throw away. By using plastic as currency, Katz saw how it could be used to free people from merely surviving to providing them with the tools to thrive.

Living life in a developed country affords us many freedoms and advantages that Katz strongly believes should be experienced by all people no matter where they are from. Putting the power back in to the hands of the people and providing them with the means to look after their own families and futures is priceless and his ultimate goal. We are a throwaway society and one of the worst offending materials is plastic.

Turning plastic waste into a currency that can be exchanged to help lift people out of poverty and transition them into a self-sustaining life of entrepreneurship seemed like an obvious solution.

The Plastic Bank is not only a motivational way of harvesting and repurposing waste plastics but it is also a project to use the plastic to create useful tools through the use of 3D printing.


It is impossible to give hope to people if they cannot meet their basic needs. When people are focused on and living in survival mode, there is no opportunity for a person to expand their horizons or to become creative in their daily lives. In developing countries, plastics accumulate in the streets and discharge into the ocean bound waterways, as there are no functional waste management systems supported by the government. The Plastic Bank model aims to help eliminate this.

We are a throwaway society and one of
the worst offending materials is plastic

The Plastic Bank's mission is to enable both education and opportunity for people in the community to exchange all plastics for income in addition to credits that can be used to buy basic necessities, to print 3D products (such as water pumps or wrenches) and provide various other life improvement opportunities. This opportunity will offer people the chance to become entrepreneurs and create jobs for themselves and others. This will also allow waste-pickers to hire others, perhaps family or friends, creating a ripple effect of hope and employment within these affected communities.

In May 2013, Katz turned his dream into a reality. He assembled a team of experts from around the globe. Their goal was to help him in his quest to heal the world’s oceans and waterways, and provide hope by helping the world’s most disadvantaged to lift themselves from poverty. And so, "The Plastic Bank" was born.


In June 2013, co-founder and brand strategist Shaun Frankson coined the term Social Plastic™ and launched a global movement. This launch attracted vast international media attention focusing on Katz's grand idea of creating "micro-recycling entrepreneurs" with access to a new currency enabling them to bring hope and employment to their needy communities.

The Plastic Bank has been featured in various television interviews and in 100 interviews in magazines like Forbes, TIME Magazine, in over 23 different countries. Headlines included:

Since then, citizens from over 140 countries have officially joined the Social Plastic™ movement by signing the petition at The Plastic Bank Facebook page quickly gained over 125,000 supporters and @PlasticBankalready has over 75,000 followers on Twitter just a year after launching.

Now and more than ever, consumers want to be engaged with companies which share their values. It is proven that more often than not, consumer purchases are decided on an emotional level. Social Plastic™ creates just that emotional connection to innate products. Socially-conscious companies will be inspired by Social Plastic™. Just as the organic symbol connects to sustainable produce and the Fair Trade symbol promotes the improvement to the lives of coffee farmers, the Social Plastic™ symbol will promote poverty reduction and plastic waste management around the world.

As consumers become educated about The Plastic Bank initiative, they will start making purchase decisions with a preference for the Social Plastic™ label. Companies like LUSH are backing Katz's belief that Social Plastic™ is the "wave" of the future. This internationally-recognized eco-conscious company has chosen the label for its Charity Pots, available across North America since April 2014.


In October 2013, The Plastic Bank merged with the Plastic For Change program. During the period from August to December 2013, a dozen non-governmental organizations and community groups donated their shoreline plastic waste to the Plastics For Change program. Nearly 10,000 kilos of ocean plastic were collected from the shorelines of British Columbia and Alaska as part of the program. The plastic was then hand-sorted and the recyclable plastics were processed into reusable source stock for manufacturing.

The "proof of concept" feasibility study was an important step; it proved the company's ability to recycle complicated mixed waste streams into industry grade plastic pellets for manufacturing.

The "proof of concept" feasibility study was an important step; it proved the company's ability to recycle complicated mixed waste streams into industry grade plastic pellets for manufacturing.

The Social Plastic™ manufactured was subsequently used in LUSH Cosmetic’s Sea Spray bottles. Proceeds from the plastic collected from the ocean are donated back to continue to help fund Plastic Bank exchange centers to prevent more plastic from entering the ocean.

Accompanied by team members Shaun Frankson and Andrew Almack, David Katz visited Colombia and Peru in March 2014 to meet with potential partners to bring the first Plastic Bank to life. They were inspired by all the incredible support. The team was able to experience first-hand the day-to-day working and living conditions of Resource Entrepreneurs in the developing regions. “Roughly 2.7 billion people live on $2/day or less. By revealing value in plastic, we can unleash the energy and creativity of the disadvantaged, which in turn reveals value in people,” says co-founder and vice-president Shaun Frankson.

While in Peru, The Plastic Bank team was able to connect with businessman Lorenzo Sousa, Chairman of Peru Rail SA, Peru Orient Express Hotels, and the Trans-Andean railway Ferrocarril Transandino. He is now on The Plastic Banks Board of Directors and brings a wealth of expertise as one of Peru’s most accomplished and visionary business leaders and social entrepreneurs.

Since its inception, the project has been fortunate to receive overwhelming support from all corners of the world. To date it has received partnership requests from organizations in 40 different countries. In May 2014, The Plastic Bank signed on its first official partner, Ciudad Saludable in Peru, to collaborate on a pilot project to launch the very first Plastic Bank in Lima.


Meanwhile, an award-winning 3D printing technology was developed for the project by the University of British Columbia's engineering department. They came up with a ground-breaking innovative process whereby commonly occurring waste items (including ocean waste) are turned into recycled plastic filament for 3D printers. This technology was made available globally through an open-source license in September 2014.

This recycled 3D printing technology will clearly play a tremendous role. In the developing world, access to tools and necessities (wrenches and water pumps, for example) is often hindered by fragmented supply chains. 3D printing enables important products to be produced locally and even to be customized for specific local uses. By revealing the value of plastic through 3D printing technological advances, plastic waste suddenly becomes a precious commodity which can serve to influence lives.

Reactions around the world have been extremely positive. "David Katz and his partner have scaled-up a business in 18 months that might take others 18 years, while solving a huge problem for the planet. They are normalizing the price of recycled plastic so people around the world can make a living by farming, fishing, and finding plastic; and they are getting companies to agree to use only social plastic," says Verne Harnish, Growth Guy.


David Katz's dream is that this project should help eliminate global poverty and reduce plastic waste by the year 2035. One day, he hopes to see Plastic Banks in communities all over the world. The sky’s the limit now that it has already taken off with a hugely successful pilot program in Lima, Peru.

By highlighting the environmental and social impacts of recycling, The Plastic Bank initiative aims to empower individuals and bring communities together. One man’s brilliant and simple idea will not only change attitudes towards waste but also give poorer communities hope. Hope that they can raise themselves from poverty. There is no doubt that Katz’s dream project supported by a very practical and ethical solution will develop into a global environmental project with social consequences.


The Plastic Bank is turning plastic waste into a currency that can be exchanged to help lift people out of poverty and transition them into a self-sustaining life of entrepreneurship. It can provide a social impact in areas with high amounts of poverty and plastic pollution by setting up exchange and recycling centers. David Katz realizes that plastic waste can be utilized as a resource to help mitigate global poverty.

Using plastic as currency will free people from merely surviving and provide them with the tools to thrive. The Plastic Bank mission is to lead the global movement for Social Plastic™, to encourage companies and consumers to choose ethically-sourced plastic for recycling. The higher the demand, the greater the social impact towards helping to alleviate global poverty.

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