Turning plastic waste into currency

June 6, 2014
Amy Dove
The Plastic Bank co-founders David Katz and BCom alumnus Shaun Frankson are opening their first locaiton in Peru this summer.

Shaun Frankson sees value where others see waste.

It’s been almost a year since he joined forces with David Katz to co-found The Plastic Bank as a practical solution to get plastic out of the world’s oceans and income into the hands of those who need it most. The first Plastic Bank location will open this summer in Lima, Peru, thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign and community partnerships.

“If we can reveal the value in plastic it becomes too valuable to throw away,” says Frankson, a Bachelor of Commerce alumnus. “We are making plastic waste a currency and empowering a global community of resource entrepreneurs.”

The idea is simple. People collect any kind of plastic and bring it to The Plastic Bank in exchange for a fair and consistent fee. They will also earn credits towards its Life Improvement Program, which will offer services based on community need, including access to 3D printers to turn recycled plastic into a wide variety of products, and health-care and education programs. With recycling facility partnerships around the world, the material is then sent the shortest distance possible to be processed and ultimately reused.

To support the organization on the ground, The Plastic Bank has partnered with Ciudad Saludable, a Peru-based company that supports local companies to collect and process garbage at fair rates. There are also talks to partner with universities to open The Plastic Bank up to research, allowing students and faculty to contribute to the success of the program while advancing their own studies.

“The more minds we can get working on how we can provide the best value, the better the solutions that reveal themselves will be,” Frankson says.

Over the course of the year, the men have been building awareness for what they have trademarked as social plastic (any recycled plastic that improved the life of a disadvantaged person).  With coverage from publications such as Forbes, Time, Fast Company andFinancial Post, they have seen interest grow and they are now fielding calls from corporations who want to buy the product to support their own sustainability mandates. They have heard from organizations in more than 20 countries that would like to partner with The Plastic Bank to get a location in their community.

The Lima location will be the first, but not the last, Frankson says, noting they are interested in setting up a global network of plastic banks. Of the more than 300-million tonnes of plastic produced annually, roughly five to 10 per cent of it is recycled, Frankson says, making the motivation to go global as simple as the original idea.

“We are preventing plastic from entering the ocean and we are helping people who need it the most.”