Harvesting Waste Plastic In Emerging Economies As A Currency, To Reduce Pollution And Improve Lives

from the nothing-if-not-ambitious dept

The very best solutions not only come up with a brilliant answer to an important problem, but often manage to help address other issues too. Here's one that seems to fit that bill, pointed out to us by Izabella Kaminska. It's called Plastic Bank, and its core idea is to address the growing problem of plastic waste on the land and in the world's oceans and rivers, especially in poorer countries. But along the way, it might achieve much more. Here's the idea:
The Plastic Bank is setting up plastic repurposing centers around the world, where there's an abundance of both waste plastic and poverty.

We are empowering people to harvest plastics as a currency they can exchange for tools, household items, parts & 3D printing.

Our mission is to remove plastic waste from the land, oceans and waterways while helping people ascend from poverty and transition into entrepreneurship.

The exchange process for our recycled "Social Plastic" improves the life of a disadvantaged person while cleaning our planet.

Our goal is to lead the movement towards worldwide demand for the use of Social Plastic in everyday products. The higher the worldwide demand becomes, the higher the reward will be for harvesting Social Plastic.
Sounds too good to be true? Maybe it is -- it's evidently the early days for the project, so perhaps turning what seems a clever approach into a viable endeavor might prove to be difficult or even impossible. Still, it's good to see people daring to think big in this way, and working on things that matter -- rather than just launching another social network or iPhone app....

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Reader Comments (rss)

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2014 @ 1:29am

    How is it economical?

    While removing waste plastic is admirable, there is a reason why no company pays for plastic without government subsidies: it costs more energy to recycle plastic than it costs just to make new plastic. I'm concerned how the project will pay to get the plastic to one of its centers, and then pay more to convert the waste plastic into something useful.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2014 @ 2:32am

    Re: How is it economical?

    They get a lot of "free" stuff from the EU alredy.
    I think this could only work as a small incentive for the homeless to collect plastic waste.
    Unless 3d printing make plastic recycling a big thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    Ninja (profile), Jan 10th, 2014 @ 3:21am

    I wonder, only around 30% of recycled plastic can be introduced in new plastic to have the new product maintain its original physical and chemical attributes (sometimes more, others less depending on which type of plastic you are talking about). First of all we should be using plastic where it is really important and recyclable materials on others (ie: less plastic packages and more paper/aluminum stuff). Regardless, we should have more researched aiming to increase that 30% value and yet you don't hear about those often.

    This initiative may work if there's general acceptance and the government kicks in to give support. Without the Govt I suspect it won't survive for long.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Just Sayin', Jan 10th, 2014 @ 4:37am


    This sounds more like trying to build a business model on the backs of poor people, taking a nice slice of government money and letting a trickle get to the impoverished people of the third and fourth world countries.

    Their goal sounds noble the way they write it, but it seems mostly another way to sheer the government and the sheep at the same time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2014 @ 5:02am

    If bitcoin can exist .I see no reason why a physical item couldn't be a viable (type) of currency .. one mans trash is another mans treasure.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2014 @ 5:02am

    People should look into depolymerization and polymer degradation pathways they all result is monomers.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Depolymeriza tion

    Many plastics can be dissolved into their stockfeed forms, which is cheap, many other plastics return to their monomers after reaching a threshold temperature, solar furnaces could help produce those things on the cheap.

    Fascinating subject really.

    Here is an example.

    Acetone will dissolve polystyrene foam.


    The key here is to find new ways to do it cheap, most mass recycling projects use huge amounts of energy in a short period of time, there is probably a way to do it more slowly with others means and people bring the raw product to recycling centers to sell those raw materials already treated.

    Some plastics can be reused over and over and over again, some need to be "reenergized" or depolymerized first, others can be used as feedstock for other purposes as fillings, fuels, sources of carbon etc.

    I believe the success of the project will be related in how they manage to find uses for all that material, which won't be easy this is serious chemistry voodoo there, still I truly believe it can be done.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Vidiot (profile), Jan 10th, 2014 @ 5:40am

    Scientific American recently ran an excerpt from Adam Minter's book Junkyard Planet -- a terrifying snapshot of large scale recycling turning a city, and a region, into a post-apocalyptic wasteland, thanks to the convenience of so-called single-stream recycling in the US. If your gut told you it would be difficult to separate and recycle massively intermingled materials... and I think that's implied in this new initiative... your gut was right; the US shipped huge quantities of mixed plastics to towns like Wen'an in China, where poverty-wage workers would separate it, sanitize with caustic chemicals, and melt/process, all without any form of safety precautions or personal protection; leftovers and unrecyclables were burned in open campfires all over town. A fascinating read; and, unfortunately for those of us who believe in reuse and recycling, a profoundly troubling challenge to our comfortable, do-it-for-me culture.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2014 @ 6:05am

    Plastic to fuel

    There is a company in Niagra Falls that has developed a commercially viable process for converting waste plastic into low sulphur diesel and naphtha. They could put these processors with these banks to make fuel which is also in short supply in many poorer countries.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2014 @ 7:15am


    lol i remember taking cigarette butts and and my sisters finger nail polish remover and putting them in my hand together for the booger effect.. the material actually makes for great crack sealant or patching in plastic items

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2014 @ 7:21am


    Bitcoin survived without government , the barter and trade groups have as well trading cards are another example .. the people can deem anything at all valuable it just takes a strong show of people to generate the value.. the government only has an illusion of control.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2014 @ 8:09am


    Is this a cautionary tale for "oh noes don't do it" or "oh noes lets do it right"?

    See the US Army in Iraq use a huge open fire pit to burn trash(low temperature), they probably are sending a lot of American soldiers back home with respiratory problems, on the other hand you can burn trash at high temperatures and extract syngas, obsidian and other safe and inert subproducts from it.

    This is exactly why I am exited to see hacker biolabs springing all over the world, they will produce the knowledge necessary for the public to achieve those things in a safe manner (hopefully).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    Ninja (profile), Jan 10th, 2014 @ 8:17am

    Re: Re:

    I'm aware. I'm questioning the economic viability of the project given the fact that very few plastic can actually be recycled generating further value. And I'm not talking about Govt control, I'm talking about Govt support which are very different things.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    ECA (profile), Jan 10th, 2014 @ 11:17am


    NOW we are giving a meaning for us to send our TRASH to other nations as money??

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2014 @ 1:19pm

    Re: Sooo

    Just wait until some african warlord starts buying stuff with trash diamonds.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2014 @ 2:35pm

    Re: Sooo

    There is a long history of refurbishing and recycling e-waste abroad.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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