As much hype as cryptocurrencies and digital tokens are getting these days, their real-world, practical uses remain few and far between. But one Vancouver-based organization, The Plastic Bank, is working to exchange plastic waste for digital currency in some of the world’s poorest places.
In a quest to find a sustainable solution to marine plastic waste around the world, The Plastic Bank incentivizes people to bring plastic waste to recycling collection areas for export, in return for reimbursement via digital tokens into a bank account accessible by smartphone, which they can then exchange for goods such as food, water, phone minutes and more.
By tracking recyclables and the tokens people receive in return on the blockchain, The Plastic Bank enables a secure, cashless method for financial inclusion – important factors in places where cash puts individuals at risk for robbery, but where nearly everyone owns a smartphone. Working with Cognition Foundry and IBM to implement blockchain, The Plastic Bank can scale its solution to meet growing demands and secure the transactions that run on it.
We spoke with Plastic Bank co-founder Shaun Frankson to learn more about the collaboration.
What are the roles of IBM, Cognition Foundry and Plastic Bank in your collaboration?
The Plastic Bank has been working closely with IBM and Cognition Foundry to develop a blockchain-based platform to ignite a ‘Social Plastic’ revolution, uniting and enrolling humanity for local action that creates global impact.
After 2016, when Plastic Bank had successfully created a multimillion-person movement to prove the global demand for Social Plastic and established the first Social Plastic recycling systems in Haiti, they were ready to scale. Plastic Bank was approached by Cognition Foundry to form a partnership in which the Plastic Bank app and platform could be developed as a globally scalable enterprise system. The pair further partnered with IBM to utilize some of the greatest minds and technologies available to make this as secure and dependable as possible. The instant scale and security comes from using the combination of blockchain, Hyperledger Fabric and LinuxOne.
Today the app unites an end-to-end Social Plastic recycling ecosystem. It provides an opportunity for the world ‘unbanked’ to have a digital wallet and savings account, while allowing anyone with a smartphone and scale to create their own local recycling business and ecosystem.
Your co-founder, David Katz, has talked about how The Plastic Bank relies on trust from both waste collectors and manufacturers. How has this technology helped with that?
Blockchain has emerged as one of the greatest technologies to enable an environment of trust. It’s the most trusted and secure way to instantly approve and record an exchange of value. When we combine blockchain, Hyperledger Fabric and LinuxOne, we create an enterprise system built for trust.
The Plastic Bank’s first recycling centers were in Haiti, and you’ve expanded into South-East Asia and South America. Has this technology accelerated your scalability?
The Plastic Bank is currently in Haiti, Philippines and Brazil. The next expansion will be into Indonesia. After that is Ethiopia, India and South Africa. The technology allows us to start planning now for global scale within a year or so.
What are your priorities going forward with these expansions?
We expand based on the combination of need and opportunity. The need comes from the degree of plastic waste and poverty. The opportunity comes from the power of our local partners in each region. We partner with local, on-the-ground organizations such as World Vision and other NGOs. We constantly look for opportunities to introduce closed-loop programs that our clients can funnel back into their own manufacturing. It’s important to note that we don’t come in and compete with existing recycling ecosystems. Instead we become a platform for those existing ecosystems to utilize our technology and become eligible for increased Social Plastic recycling incentives.
On what other fronts do you need support to continue scaling?
We need to continue to inspire the Social Plastic revolution — in which everyday people are demanding that if a company has to use plastic, it should be Social Plastic, which helps to prevent ocean plastic while improving people’s lives. We need companies to go beyond awareness campaigns and beach cleanups, and instead understand that we need ongoing, self-sustaining, root-cause solutions that include a genuine social impact for the collectors involved.
We are inviting the world to participate. By expanding the app to the global community, we can allow every person to find their unique path of contribution. This is bigger than us. We are just the conduit for others to create a global impact through local actions.