Can you turn plastic into hope?

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Written by: Anne Nicholson, Brand Strategy Lead IBM A/NZ

Shaun Frankson

Shaun Frankson, co-founder of the Plastic Bank

A life changing event forever changed Shaun Frankson, founder of Plastic Bank. “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 had an epiphany.

I had this revelation, a realisation about what I wanted to do. I wanted to help change the world. I wanted to inspire, create and strategise solutions to help fight global problems like poverty and pollution.” It was an audacious goal for a 21-year-old, but by 29 that dream became a reality when he founded the Plastic Bank with David Katz. The initiative fights poverty and ocean plastic pollution.

Plastic rubbish floating in water
When you think of ocean pollution and plastic, typically it’s in the context of being a culprit not a hero. Consider Henderson Island, which is located between New Zealand and Chile. It’s covered in an estimated 38 million pieces of trash, most of it plastic. Globally, an estimated 8 million tons of plastic goes into our oceans every year. For many of us though, it’s out of sight, out of mind. For others it is very visible in their daily lives. “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” says Shaun.

The Plastic Bank kicked off their venture with a brand they named Social Plastic in Lima, Peru. Then came a solar-powered recycling market in Haiti. This allowed people to hand in their collected plastic in exchange for solar mobile phone charging, sustainable cooking fuels and other basics.

Things caught on quickly and so did the need to track financial payments around the globe with companies who wanted to promote the Social Plastic brand.  Lush cosmetics were the first to jump on board by using the Plastic Bank’s Social Plastic branding in the manufacturing of their Sea Spray Bottles. The other drive was the desire to empower the people who were collecting the plastic by paying them for their work. “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” says Shaun.

IBM and IBM Business Partner Cognition Foundry teamed up and created a blockchain solution with a Hyperledger Fabric framework on an IBM LinuxONE system. This provided a secure and transparent digital currency. Now people can collect plastic and turn it into money that supports their family through their mobile phones.  “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” says Shaun. It is always inspiring too see the art of the possible applied to social good. Shaun wanted to make a change in the world and he surely has. If you would like to learn more about Shaun’s journey you can read his blog here.

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