Corporate Citizenship

Tackling ocean plastic and global poverty with blockchain

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Author: Moragh Blyth, Head of Marketing for IBM Brand and Global Markets, Australia & New Zealand

Our planet is being choked by plastic. Consider this:

• Scientists predict more plastic than fish in the ocean worldwide by 2050

• A ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch,’ a massive floating island of plastic, is now 3 times the size of France

• Closer to home, Henderson Island’s beaches have the worst plastic density in the world. The island is halfway between New Zealand and Chile and has an estimated 37.7 million pieces of plastic litter.

• Every minute, the equivalent of one garbage truck of plastic waste enters our oceans—a total of 8 million metric tons a year.

When I consider the dangers plastic poses to our planet, it can feel a little overwhelming. But then I remember Plastic Bank and their Founder and CEO David Katz. His story is one of passion, determination and turning plastic into hope. He is living proof that global impact can start with one person wanting to make a difference.

A vision to change perceptions

David had a clear vision from the start: “Years ago, I sat watching the aquarium in Manila Harbor and saw the trash floating on the surface and scattered on the bottom. As a nature-lover, I decided then and there to take action to cut the flow of plastic waste into the ocean.”

A community collects plastic from a beachMuch of the plastic originates in underdeveloped countries with minimal waste management infrastructure, where citizens often survive on less than a dollar a day. “I realised we had to challenge our perception of plastic, and make it too valuable a commodity to simply throw away into a river or stream” David shares.

Teaming up with co-founder and CTO, Shaun Frankson, Plastic Bank was created to rise to the challenge. They started 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.

After this initial success, the next challenge was to take Plastic Bank to the world, which is where IBM and blockchain stepped in to support their vision.

Transformation – supporting millions of users

Today, Plastic Bank offers communities with high levels of poverty an above-market rate for plastic waste. Plastic that’s collected can be traded for money, items or services. Local entrepreneurs can also get help setting up their own local shop, where plastic waste is the currency. Plastic collected through Plastic Bank is then recycled and sold at a premium as Social Plastic®.

To support its plans to go global, Plastic Bank selected IBM Blockchain to deliver its services on a private cloud, managed by service provider Cognition Foundry and powered by IBM® LinuxONE™. Blockchain is being used to track the entire cycle of recycled plastic from collection, credit and compensation through delivery to companies for re-use.

“At the heart of Plastic Bank is trust in our token rewards. When we started out, we saw that for people to buy into our vision, both waste collectors and manufacturers had to have total confidence in the process” said David.

“IBM Blockchain gives us a single, irrefutable hyperledger that cannot be tampered with. That means people in the most disadvantaged countries, and the companies who buy our recycled plastic can have complete faith in the integrity of our enterprise. They know that when working with us, they get a fair deal. In many of the countries that we operate in, it can be dangerous to carry large amounts of cash, and the Blockchain helps ensure a safe and secure payment transfer for our recyclers.

The results

When speaking to IBM, David concluded: “We started this journey with nothing more than the dream of creating a cleaner planet. I knew that we could no longer sit by and watch as plastic waste causes terrible damage to the natural world. Today, we are fighting back against marine pollution and cutting off the flow at its source. Thanks to our work with IBM, we are transforming the lives of millions of the most disadvantaged people on earth, and realising our vision for cleaner oceans, free from plastic waste.”

Tech for good

The Plastic Bank story is just one of the many inspiring examples of organisations using tech to help communities and the planet that we’ll be sharing at Think Summit. I hope you’ll join me on the 22 May in Sydney, where some of our keynote speakers will talk about:

• Tackling Ocean Plastic and Global Poverty
• Preventing Human Trafficking with AI
• Keeping Communities Connected in a Natural Disaster
• Addressing the Digital Skills Gap and Opening the Doors to Opportunity

See us at:

Techweek 2019 – Celebrating innovation that’s good for the world in New Zealand.

Or join us from 9.55 AEST on 22 May to watch inspiring keynote sessions from innovative problem solvers, using technology to transform industries and to change the way the world works here.


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