As of today, our world faces a huge epidemic, plastic pollution. Personally, in my opinion, to be completely realistic, plastic was invented as a durable material to help with industrial processes. Where it got ridiculous was the invention of single-use plastic and since then, we’ve seen convenience take precedence over the beauty of our environment, nature, marine wildlife and in turn, our own health! I don’t want to highlight all the disturbing facts and figures that are circulated through established Environmental Organizations, but we need to act, and we need to act now. If generations ago, we were able to survive without using single-use plastic, we can go back to doing that! Additionally, our world faces the issue of poverty and global inequality. Survival takes precedence over educating themselves about the effect their having on their environment around them. Through education, raising awareness and optimizing our recycling process, we need to come together and fix this problem by turning off the tap.
Another week, another initiative helping out planet – Meet Shaun Frankson
I had the opportunity to sit down with Shaun Frankson, Co-Founder and CTO at Plastic Bank and it was extremely insightful to hear the great initiatives they are implementing to tackle plastic pollution, while tackling other global issues like poverty and the well-being of populations in lesser developed countries.
Shaun is a co-founder and CTO, so a lot of us have the belief that we must be at an influential position to make even a dent. But what we must realize is that Shaun started off as every single one of us. He was part of a highschool rock band, passionate about music, until a near-death accident changed his life.
“This is when Shaun realized ‘I’d rather go out and do what I want to achieve rather than sitting back and waiting for things to happen to me and around me”
Another simple takeaway in the form of life advice is, be open-minded and realize that everything we do has value and will help us grow. Shaun came to realize that it wasn’t music that was his passion, but it was actually the strategizing aspect on behalf of the band that was drawing him to music.
“This led to setting a goal – I wanted to be an international ‘change the world’ strategist.’ Many of us look at this and ponder, how vague and unrealistic is this. But Shaun pointed out to me, having a goal doesn’t mean we need to become that person TODAY. It means we use the goal as a compass and build ourselves towards it.
To build himself to reach closer and closer to that supposed vague goal, Shaun founded a variety of micro-ventures, the purpose of these being simply LEARNING. Not necessarily building successful businesses, but learning the various industries and skills so one day, he would have all the skills to become a “International ‘change the world’ strategist”
And what happens next?! Shaun meets David Katz and eventually Plastic Bank was born, 6 years ago.
Plastic Bank operates as social enterprise. Why? Taking the massive earthquake that struck Haiti as an example, a large number of charities entered the country to help out but it was only temporary for many different reasons. Being a social enterprise allows Plastic Bank to have long-lasting operations and hence long-lasting solutions and positive impacts
“Being a social enterprise means self-sustaining revenue which leads to self-sustaining impact”
To get a brief idea of Plastic Bank and share it with you all, I asked Shaun to highlight what Plastic Bank is in 1-2 sentences
“To stop Ocean Plastic while reducing global poverty to address the root cause – developing countries that have no waste management systems, poverty is at such an extreme state that all people try to do is survive for the day. When you’re trying to to survive for the day, you cannot afford to care about your footprint on the planet”
The way Plastic Bank aims to turn of the tap on plastic is revealing the true value of plastic to local communities. According to Shaun, not only do they aim to provide income to local communities through recycling, but use recycling to provide a universal basic earned income which also comes with a membership to give people access to education, literacy training, and even career path training. Think about this for a second. So essentially, waste pickers who are bring plastic to Plastic Bank collection centers, are not only earning a generous income for their families, they also have the ability to invest in themselves and educate themselves or even form a career path for themselves!
Shaun mentioned their blockchain based application as well, and this is quite revolutionary. It is important to note the flexibility and rate of adaptation to new trends and technologies Plastic Bank is taking care of. Using blockchain, Shaun highlighted how Plastic Bank provides financial inclusion to the world’s ‘unbankable.’ Whether that’s through providing identification for those with IDs, providing a virtual savings platform for those who do nt have bank accounts, or even providing the necessary infrastructure to help families improve their trust/credit scores and continue to invest in themselves and their communities
Social Plastic vs. New Manufactured Plastic
Throughout our conversation, the term social plastic was constantly emerging. So what is social plastic?
“Social plastic is plastic that is sourced from our ecosystem and then contributes its value back into the ecosystem creating a circular loop. It changes the nature of sourcing, it makes it ethical.”
A lot of companies around the world are coming to the realization that consumers are changing their buying habits – and in essence, our buying habits is a vote for the product, the production process and the company.
“Our economy is driven by our buying behaviour and we all have to become knowledgeable, and responsible consumers who understand the journey all the products we buy have been through”
Plastic Bank incorporates a QR code or URL on their social plastic products to highlight the journey of the plastic and the difference these social plastic products has made in peoples’ lives around the world.
“Ignite that spark that everyone starts treating plastic responsibly and not as a throw-away item.”
Companies now have started making genuine commitments to increase their responsibility and control of their sourcing of materials, while creating their products with 50-100% recycled plastic. This means that they need a guaranteed supply of recycled plastic! It pretty much is similar to ethically sourced coffee beans. Unethical sourced coffee beans are, basically, now unheard of, and that’s what Plastic Bank aims social plastic to be.
Pushbacks and slow learning curves
It’s understandable that populations in many developing countries are facing intense issues sadly, like poverty, famine and simple daily survival.
Something Shaun mentioned during our discussion which was quite empathetic on behalf of Plastic Bank “Our goal is not to have lifelong waste collectors, but our goal is for households to have places and centres to bring plastic waste and redeem the extensive value of plastic”
What’s shocking and difficult to put into perspective, is that there is absolutely no waste management infrastructure in some of these communities, resorting to incineration which leads to increased air pollution. This thought process that if it doesn’t affect me, let it be – needs to change!
So instead of forcing the concept of recycling on local communities, Plastic Bank took on a different approach to incentivize keeping plastic out of our oceans.
“People in these communities may not relate to the fact that they are saving our oceans from plastic – instead, they are bringing income to their families, bringing pride to their communities and opening their doors to opportunities. Although we aim to educate regarding plastic and circular loop, we also want to teach people that plastic is currency = value”
What can we do to help who are not directly impacted by the problem?
So with Plastic Bank, among other initiatives, taking on such a large problem we’re facing in scope, it is essential for us to support, learn from them and share, so we can upscale these efforts and increase the momentum.
“We’re igniting a social plastic revolution for local action for global impact. The more the people buy products made from social plastic, the more it drives the demand for social plastic over manufacturing new plastic”
Plastic Bank provides ways for individuals and companies to achieve plastic neutrality by offsetting your plastic usage which in turn helps extract more plastic from our environment. It was extremely surprising to hear Shaun highlight that it costs them only about 44 cents per kilo of plastic extracted!
“It’s essential for us to all become intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs to make a change, time to sit back and fit in the system has changed, now we must strive to change the system”
What about the emergence of zero-waste movements?
What I found was concerning is the fact that, with all these zero-waste movements, is there a future where we have absolutely no plastic in this world? As per Shaun, it is unrealistic to envision a day where we get to a point of ZERO PLASTIC. This does not mean that we should minimize our dependence on plastic.
“I’m a believer of if you don’t need the plastic, wash it or don’t use the excess packaging. But when plastic is used responsibly and recycled, plastic can be beneficial in many different processes.”
THERE’S ALWAYS CHALLENGES
It all seems to be moving great, but we always make it a point to highlight challenges that these positive initiatives also face. This allows us to stay grounded and realize that challenges are everywhere, we must just find it in ourselves to use it as a learning process and move forward.
“We don’t have all the skills and knowledge TODAY ITSELF, but we have to become what we want to be! No one can impact 1 billion people on Day 1. Getting over that overwhelm and being free without limitation, and designing without limitation, really becomes inspiring to make a huge change.”
What. A. Discussion and Conversation.
Having experienced all this, again, we must put our egos aside, stay grounded and be open to learning from anyone and everyone around us. So asked Shaun to share life and entrepreneurship advice that can help us all empower ourselves to make a positive change
- Life advice
- Become the person you want to be – Grow into it, it will not happen in one day and enjoy the journey
- Responsible Consumer – realize the power that you have! Every single purchase is a vote for how a product has been made and the company that has made it (THINK ABOUT THAT, AGAIN)
- Perfection is the enemy of progress – we need to get rid of that stigma. Celebrate incremental improvement in people and companies and focus on improvements. Doing this, it suddenly becomes realistic that we’re changing and we can continue making changes. One key actionable advice was to pick up a key habit every week or month so you continue to evolve your culture and habits
- Entrepreneurship advice
- Just act, learn, tweak as you go!
- No such thing as a flawless business plan or roadmap
- Faster you can act, test it out, gather feedback, and tweak, the more you are flexible to keep up with change, expedite change or start movements
- Continuously make things happen – either you are progressing or you are not, you should never be comfortable with not progressing
We want to take this opportunity to thank Shaun Frankson for an extremely insightful conversation. Thank you and we wish Plastic Bank the very best in helping solve our plastic problem!