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Changing plastics into currency

July 12, 2013
By: 
Amy Dove
Shaun Frankson and David Katz founded the Plastic Bank work to alleviate poverty and pollution through recycling plastics.

Where entrepreneurship and environmentalism meet, you will find Shaun Frankson.

The Royal Roads University Bachelor of Commerce in Entrepreneurial Management alumnus joined forces with David Katz to co-found The Plastic Bank to work to alleviate poverty and pollution. Every problem has a solution, the men say, and every solution is an entrepreneurial opportunity.

“There is always a how. That is the challenge with most people, they hope there is a how, but they get stuck in the problem,” Katz says.

The premise is simple, and not unlike that of a more traditional bottle depot. Where it differs is the fact that people can bring in all kinds of plastic, from anywhere – whether that be city street gutters or the sea – and in exchange they can use the material as currency for various opportunities including education, training, basic necessities and eventually 3D printing services.  As the Plastic Bank develops, the plan is to ultimately help people unleash their creativity on the problems, and opportunities in their own lives.

“All of a sudden plastic creates value and it becomes too valuable to leave as waste,” Frankson says. “It’s really a permanent solution to two major problems.”

The beauty of the bank is its dual role in cleaning up the environment and empowering people to better their lives by helping lift them out of poverty. It can be challenging to recycle all types of plastic and the true value of that resource is not typically seen by the person bringing the materials to a traditional recycling facility, Frankson says.

With the first location slated to open in Lima, Peru in 2014, the Plastic Bank aims to address that by partnering with MBA Polymers – a leading plastic recycling company can sorts and recycles every plastic type for use in new products. The intent is to raise the value of the resource by making recycled plastic more affordable for businesses to use, turning it into what the men call social plastic.  

The business model should directly impact the environment positively, Katz says, adding, “If you reveal the value in the waste, the urgency of keeping the plastics from the ocean takes care of itself.”

The Plastic Bank is looking to harness the power of crowdsourcing to raise money to support the first location – it is launching its first online campaign July 12. Money raised will go towards developing the business behind the banks, namely systems for membership, inventory and other details. Further finds will go towards establishing the Lima pilot launch and future bank locations, all to be based in developing nations.

Once a bank is establish, Phase 2 is reliant on technology, specifically 3D printers. By recycling plastic, people will have access to 3D printing technology to make items of use to them from materials harvested from their own communities. The printers are available for sale online to the general public and the market for them is growing, Frankson says. The beauty of the technology is its ability to help people create custom-designed products for a variety of uses such as tools or plumbing parts.

“That is where the future is going, to get custom solutions,” Frankson says. “If you have an idea you can make it come to life. It is only limited by creativity. If we can focus on unleashing creativity, then that is what in our minds is what empowerment is.”