A Plastic-free future? You can bank on it!

Sunday, 6 December 2015 20:53 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Sustainia is proud to present this year’s Sustainia Community Award to Plastic Bank for creating an innovative way to reduce plastic waste in our oceans, while creating economic opportunities for low-income communities and spurring the use of recycled plastic.

The world’s oceans are filled with life – up to 80% of all life on earth, in fact. But they are also filled with plastic. Lots of plastic. Up to 12.7 million tons of plastic wash into the ocean every year. This waste not only degrades the environment, but also diminishes quality of life for those who live in communities littered with plastic waste.

But one visionary enterprise has created a way to reduce this astounding amount of waste by doing something revolutionary: giving it value. Plastic Bank is a social enterprise that allows individuals to collect wasted plastic that litters their nearby shores and riverbanks and bring it to a local Plastic Bank facility where it can be recycled. Recycled plastic then goes to one of two places; it’s either sold to socially conscious companies as Social Plastic®, or collectors can turn it into 3D printed goods that can be sold in the local community, allowing collectors to become small scale entrepreneurs.

The fan favorite

Plastic Bank’s innovative business model and dedication to social and environmental sustainability has earned it this year’s Sustainia Community Award. During the weeks leading up to the Sustainia Awards Ceremony, Sustainia invites everyone to review the 100 solutions from the annual Sustainia100 and have their say by voting for their favorite solution. The solution that garners the most votes from our online community receives the annual Sustainia Community Award.

It’s clear to see why so many people are enamored with Plastic Bank. By removing harmful waste from the environment, creating jobs, and fostering a more socially and environmentally conscious business culture, Plastic Bank is achieving a triple bottom line – benefiting people, helping the planet, and generating profit, proving that sustainable solutions are a good business case.

As one of the least recycled substances on the planet, nearly every piece of plastic ever made still exists today. Toxins from plastic also enter the food chain and become a threat to human health. And we know all too well the terrible toll plastic takes on marine life. Since plastic breaks down into tiny particles in the ocean, making clean-up efforts very difficult, the most effective way to stop plastic pollution in our oceans is to make sure it never reaches the water in the first place.

After launching its first plastic recycling facility in Haiti, the Plastic Bank is expanding globally. To date, over 400 people representing more than 70 different countries have applied to operate a Social Plastic Recycling Market in their region, and Plastic Bank will expand to any region with an abundance of poverty and waste. The idea of Social Plastic® is also catching on. Just this past year, Plastic Bank held meetings at the home offices of Unilever, Seventh Generation, Method Home and various other global brands to discuss the purchase and promotion of Social Plastic®.

Solutions in Paris

It’s no coincidence that this year’s Sustainia Award Ceremony is taking place in Paris alongside the COP21 climate negotiations. As the world’s leaders gather to discuss a binding global deal, we want them to remember that national level climate agreements must be supported by concrete solutions and new, sustainable business models. Plastic Bank and the 9 other finalists from this year’s Sustainia100 exemplify that available solutions are already making a difference across 10 key sectors of society – from resources and energy, to education and health. For a global climate deal to be truly successful, it must be supported by innovative solutions like these. Together, committed national action and concrete solutions can lead the sustainable transition to a low-carbon future.