Finding Opportunity in Plastic Waste

Turning Off the Tap

Cleaning up our oceans of plastic waste is great, it truly is, but preventing the plastic from entering our waterways is even better. So how do we go about doing it? Well finding and using alternatives to plastic is one way. Incentivizing others to clean up is another. One possible approach to achieving this waste reduction is through the emergence of social plastic.

That is the premise behind David Katz’s Plastic Bank. His organization has set-up a means of returning plastic material in exchange for money as well as goods and services. As highlighted by Katz, much of the plastic entering the oceans is coming from developing countries where waste management regulation is lax at best (such countries often also import waste from developed countries). Katz has acknowledged the obvious in that people living in difficult conditions are more concerned with their immediate needs relating to food, shelter, and security, than they are preventing environmental destruction. A better understanding of the needs and conditions of the world’s poor was part of the motivation for this initiative.

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Poverty and pollution are often closely linked (click to learn more).

The Emergence of Social Plastic

The Plastic Bank is a brilliant solution! What has now come to be known as “social plastic” (see video) represents an opportunity for the poor to monetize the pervasive plastics cluttering their local environment. It also allows for companies to use existing resources as a means of closing the loop of their own manufacturing processes, while providing a sustainable means of advancing their own brands.

Plastic Bank

Click to learn more about the Plastic Bank (BBC interview).

It’s a Win-Win

The benefits are many. It provides a source of income and purpose for some of the planet’s poorest, it offers a positive source of material for companies who can demonstrate their goodwill by buying into social plastic, and it will of course help rid communities of plastic waste pollution. Kudos to David Katz and his team (click the supporting links to connect with the organization) for their inspirational work, I hope it helps motivate you on your own path to sustainability.

3 thoughts on “Finding Opportunity in Plastic Waste

  1. Milind Joshi says:

    Good post! and completely different way of looking at issue of plastic debris in oceans. However I do not quite agree with the statement “Poverty and pollution are often closely linked”. It can not be generalized like that. If you look at world’s top ten most polluting countries (especially air-pollution), may be eight out them are not poor (if you consider China and India as poor). As of plastics, top 5 are China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and Philippines. But I agree with you that an out-of-the-box thinking is required for the solution to this issue.

  2. Marc-Antoni says:

    Thanks for the support and the feedback! I agree that an alternative way of viewing our social and environmental problems will help us solve them, and it’s exactly what I plan on conveying with this blog. As per the poverty and pollution question, it really is a complex topic, but you are certainly correct in the dangers of generalizations. Perhaps I should have given more context as to where my assertion was coming from. Looking through the historical lens (my other passion), we see how even the more developed states got there through the exploitation of people and natural resources. Japan (where I live now) is a prime example. Japan was very heavily bombed during the Second World War, with cities destroyed and countless lives lost. The Post-War years were obviously difficult, what with the economy in tatters, a flood of returning soldiers, social re-organization, etc. Yet within a couple decades their economy soared. By 1964 (the last Tokyo Olympics) Japan “re-entered” the world and has been a considerable economic power since. However it did so at the expense of the environment. Industrial pollution was rampant, and (into the 60s) Japan hosted some of the most polluted cities in the world. They were eventually able to change that as a result of social pressures from the population who were angry that their air and water were being polluted and their children poisoned, blinded, etc. The government responded, and they were able to change. China is making a similar argument today. First they want to focus on the economy and pull millions out of extreme poverty (as they have), and then they will look to apply a greater focus on pollution. But they are fast-forwarding the agenda as they have the same pressures now from the growing middle class who want to be able to breathe clean air and send their kids to school without masks or inflicting asthma. Thus passing the pollution buck to other poorer nations, or even the poor communities within the more developed states themselves. The US has so many examples of this, where unwanted or even dangerous pollution is relegated to poorer (often minority) communities. So yes, there is correlation between poverty and pollution, however you are absolutely correct in that wealthier nations do consume more than poorer ones and thus generate more pollution. Finally there also exist poor countries with relatively minimal pollution, who may still follow more traditional means of subsistence farming and thus produce minimal plastic pollution for themselves and for potential geographic or political reasons refuse to take on other states waste. This notion of shifting around our waste to more expendable communities an important one that needs to be addressed (made more aware of). The real solution is cutting back on the waste altogether, and I believe we can do that. I look forward to our future chats!

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