Plastic waste is undoubtedly a growing problem worldwide. An estimated 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic have been produced globally between 1950—when the large-scale production of the synthetic material began—and 2015, 6.3 billion tons of which had already become waste. Around 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the oceans each year. If current trends continue, by 2050 there will be 12 billion metric tons of plastic waste in landfills or the natural environment, and marine plastic will outnumber fish.
Haiti, like many countries in the world, faces severe plastic pollution, worsened by the lack of a reliable waste management system. Throughout the country, plastic is often burned—releasing toxins harmful to humans—or disposed of in waterways. When plastic enters waterways, there are numerous problems to take into account — marine animals and birds can ingest and become poisoned or otherwise harmed by plastic, plastic can act as an incubator for mosquitos that spread diseases (e.g. dengue fever, cholera, malaria, etc.), and it can also leach toxins into drinking sources.
Stating the urgency and necessity to reduce plastic use in Haiti and other developing countries is easy, however, it’s important to keep in mind that that option still remains a privilege nowadays. Some of us have the simple alternative of buying a metal straw or glass water bottles to refill, but in many parts of the world, single-use plastics are the only option for even having clean water. Around 75% of Haitians lack access to clean drinking water and this is partly the result of contaminated water supplies. So, how can this cycle ever be broken?
Several projects were put into action by people that had the common desire of fighting both poverty and plastic waste in Haiti. Two Canadians, David Katz and Shaun Frankson, are the founders of one of these projects called “The Plastic Bank”, globally recognized as one of the most important solutions to stop ocean plastic—while reducing poverty—by turning waste into currency. The premise of the project, which recently received a Climate Solutions Award by the United Nations, is quite simple. Locals are incentivized to collect plastic waste and bring it to a recycling centre in exchange for income and other benefits, such as cooking oil, heating oil, school tuition, gas, Wi-Fi, and more. The recycling centres turn the plastic waste into pellets and sell them to multinational brands that repurpose the pellets into products.
Although the plastic collection is focused on emerging countries, the consumption of products that reuse this plastic happens in developed markets. “The best way for people to get involved is to require companies to use ‘Social Plastic’,” states Katz. “Social Plastic” is the certification given to all the plastic waste that results in economic compensation for those who collect it and is subsequently sold to large companies. The label is intended to help guide consumers who may wish to opt for brands that include these types of plastic in their packaging, for example.
Plastic Bank ultimately aims to expand its model to other countries that have inadequate waste management systems and high rates of plastic pollution. The first recycling centres were born in Haiti and the Philippines, but they expect to reach India and Ethiopia by the end of year, and Brazil and Indonesia soon after.
By monetizing and connecting the plastic waste to global supply chains, the value of recycling is being acknowledged. Plastic Bank is helping to flip the paradigm of plastic by showing that existing plastic can and should be reused and that creating new plastic is unnecessary. Around 4% of the world’s oil that is produced every year is used as raw materials to make plastics and a similar amount is used to generate the power needed for plastic producers, resulting in greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change. Recycled plastic helps to break this model by shifting companies and consumers away from the never-ending plastic production mindset.
Did you know about Plastic Bank’s work? What other companies and brands conduct similar projects that you are aware of?
Roland Geyer et al. Production, use and fate of all plastics ever made. Science Advances, July 2017. DOI 10.1126/sciadv.1700782
Growing up surrounded by nature, Maria’s idea of a perfect scenario resumes itself to a green, sunny and quiet one. She loves to cook vegan food (and even more to eat it), long one-on-one chats, to swim in the ocean, live music, to play the ukulele and a good book.
Her life goal is to travel the world, saving wildlife species and habitats.