How can we clear the plastic choking our oceans?

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Straight out of high school I joined a rock band. I thought I was living the dream. Then I woke up one day trapped in a bed. A car crash had almost killed me. I was 21.

I had an epiphany.

I had this revelation, a realization about what I wanted to do. I wanted to help change the world. I wanted to inspire, create and strategize solutions to help fight global problems like poverty and pollution.

A vision to help fight pollution

Global pollution is a tangled mass of problems, all of them desperate for strategic solutions. One of the problems is the rising flood of plastic that’s polluting our oceans. About 8 million tons of plastic go into our oceans every single year. Most people can’t envision that. They don’t see it at the beaches they visit. But there are people who see it every day.

The people who see this problem usually live in disadvantaged areas. They look out over layers of discarded bottles and other plastics that blanket their beaches, float in their water and wash up on nearby shores.

In 2013, an entrepreneur named David Katz envisioned a way to connect these people with recycling facilities so that discarded plastic would have value. He wanted to help people see plastic as money lying on the beach. I wanted to help David drive this paradigm shift.

The vision becomes a solution with blockchain

David and I co-founded The Plastic Bank. We launched our first solar-powered recycling market in Haiti. At this market, people can exchange plastic for solar mobile phone charging, sustainable cooking fuels and other basic needs. We created a brand for our recycled plastic, Social Plastic, so that companies can advertise when they use it and support our cause.

The Plastic Bank grew quickly, and suddenly we needed to process and track financial transactions with companies around the world. We also wanted to be able to pay people who collected plastic, so they could buy essentials whenever they needed. With a little cash reserve, they could escape the daily cycle of survival. But we knew that cash was risky for them. People who carry cash can become targets.

We needed a secure transaction system that could scale exponentially, serving both the most powerful companies and the most vulnerable people.

We realized that everyone—even families in disadvantaged areas—had mobile phones that could handle digital transactions. Digital transactions through blockchain technology are secure, avoid the risk of carrying cash, and create a permanent record that companies can track. We worked with IBM and IBM Business Partner Cognition Foundry to create a blockchain solution with a Hyperledger Fabric framework on an IBM LinuxONE system.

The refined art of recycling

Now, people with no other resources can go out and collect enough plastic to provide for their families and send their children to school. I feel like it’s bringing hope, pride and dignity to the art of recycling and cleaning the world at the same time. And that’s what blockchain is doing for us.

Once I knew that was possible, I had a moment of clarity and realized technology had bridged the gap. We could unleash creativity… every possibility now flooded in, and I saw that what we’re doing is more than a recycling system. It’s really a global platform that’s a conduit for change.

The platform has just unlocked the door for people to change the world in an exponential way.

This year, we’ve already expanded operations to the Philippines and are preparing operations in Indonesia and Brazil. We want to empower everyone to be a part of this change. It’s our goal to reach everyone on the planet.

There is no limitation on this vision.


For more, watch the IBM interview with Shaun Frankson below.

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Jeff Cross

This is an outstanding example of ingenuity to help address an environmental disaster, personifying one of IBM’s values: Innovation that matters, for IBM and the world.



When technology meets a noble cause, it is more than just business. What an inspiring story.



Global vision and partnering that change lives, the environment and the world. Outstanding!


JL Eaton

The global plastics-in-the-ocean problem is so daunting as to appear permanent. And then a story like Shaun’s comes along and inspires both the heart and the mind to keep searching, to keep thinking, to keep trying to find one’s own contribution that will have mattered to anyone unrelated by blood or affinity. Thanks!


Adam Flammino

Wow, talk about making lemonade from lemons!


Mr Ziaul Kamal

This required a high level of human consciousness, and many younger generations will continue to struggle to keep nature around it.



ok, great client story, but do the numbers really make sense?

A quick internet search tells us that about 350 million tons of plastic is produced each year from petroleum. Even if we get two thirds of our plastic from recycled, it only takes us to 1 billion. So how is 8 times that discarded on our beaches?

Looking at it another way, the CIA factbook says there are 356,000 kilometers of coastline in the world, so for standard unit measure thinkers, that’s 213,600 miles. Let’s assume for a moment it’s all beach and each beach is a half mile wide, that’s 106,800 sq miles of “beach” , 564 million square feet. So, that would mean 14 tons per square foot.
Now, I live in Iowa, and it’s been a while since I’ve been to the beach, but whoa, that’s a lot of plastic.

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