During the past few years, the worsening of the climate crisis has weighed heavily on society’s consciousness. Constant news of suffering in the Global South disillusions and disheartens us, making us feel that no matter what we do, it’ll never be enough. In a world seemingly filled with despair, hope continues to thrive in the form of powerful and game-changing initiatives.
Every year 300 million tons of plastic are produced, half of which are designated for single-use purposes. Yet they are destined to remain on the planet for at least several hundred years. The convenience of plastic and increasingly “disposable” lifestyles have resulted in what is now an epidemic of plastic pollution: Currently, 5 billion metric tons of plastic litter the globe (Plastic Oceans International). These plastics are dispersed around the world and are typically found obstructing coastlines or wasting away on streets and landfills (McCarthy, “75% of All Plastic Ever Made Has Been Thrown Away and Other Startling Facts”). If the trend continues, 12 billion metric tons of plastic waste will live on our planet by 2050. To put this in perspective, that means marine plastics will outnumber fish in our oceans. (McCarthy, “In Haiti, People Can Exchange Plastic for Money and Goods at the ‘Plastic Bank.’).
Unfortunately, many countries of the Global South disproportionately bear the consequences of plastic pollution. Without proper waste management systems, plastic waste is often burned or thrown into waterways. Burning plastic means the release of toxins harmful to humans into the air. On the other hand, when thrown into rivers, marine animals may be harmed, toxins from plastics make their way into our drinking sources, and stagnant bodies of water become incubators for mosquitoes that spread deadly diseases (McCarthy, “In Haiti, People Can Exchange Plastic for Money and Goods at the ‘Plastic Bank.’).
Not only is plastic extremely harmful to the environment, but it also creates health issues for humans and animals alike, which is a significant concern for countries lacking the infrastructure and financial capacity to handle these diseases. In fact, by decreasing plastic waste, the spread of diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, and cholera can be dramatically reduced (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. “Cleaning Our Oceans of Plastic | Haiti.”). According to the United Nations, 783 million people currently living below the international poverty line of US$1.90 (United Nations). -- that is 783 million people who can’t afford to face the health effects of plastics.
You might wonder, in the face of such alarming news, how we can continue to hope for a better world — Yet time and time again, we have proven to rise up in the face of such difficulties. Historically, innovative solutions have and continue to be created in the darkest of times. The Plastic Bank is exemplary of this, an organization helping both people and the planet.
In March 2015, the Plastic Bank, a social enterprise, launched in Haiti. The mission of the Plastic Bank is to “stop Ocean Plastic by gathering a billion people together to monetize waste while improving lives.” According to the founder of the Plastic Bank, David Katz, “Preventing ocean plastic could be humanity’s richest opportunity.” (Plastic Bank, “Who We Are | Source Cause Solution to Stop Ocean Plastic.”) Essentially, the premise of the Plastic Bank is a system in which local people collect plastic that is destined to be sold to global brands, such as Dell, who plan to recycle and reuse it. The local people then receive payment for the plastic collected through a reliable mobile app named Blockchain Wallet (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. “Cleaning Our Oceans of Plastic | Haiti.”).
With some of the most impoverished people in the world, this project has provided Haitians with an opportunity to raise their incomes and gain access to much-needed essentials. For example, as a result of this project, many families are now able to afford their child’s school tuition, all while simultaneously reducing plastic waste and toxicity in their communities (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. “Cleaning Our Oceans of Plastic | Haiti.”). According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), there are 3,500 recyclers in Haiti, with twenty recycling markets, across the country. The project is thus accessible to various communities, allowing the benefits to be widely reaped. Full-time collectors are able to elevate themselves approximately 63% above the poverty line, and for the first time, able to escape the cycle of poverty (Page).
Furthermore, the Plastic Bank team also offers training in financial literacy, basic accounting, enrollment of recyclers, strategies to increase volumes, and engaging as well as educating the community. This also helps to break the cycle of poverty in these areas. (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, “Cleaning Our Oceans of Plastic | Haiti.”).
In 2017, the Plastic Bank was extended to the Philippines, and in 2018, to Indonesia. (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, “Cleaning Our Oceans of Plastic | Haiti.”). With the Philippines as the 3rd largest plastic polluters in the world and Indonesia the 2nd, behind only China, extending themselves into these countries is an important move. In the Philippines, high rates of poverty combined with geography and lack of infrastructure, similarly to other countries in the Global South, such as Haiti, have contributed to the ocean plastic crisis (Plastic Bank, “Philippines”).
The UNFCCC nominated the Plastic Bank as one of 2017’s Climate Solutions Awards winners. Coming in at 14th place, amongst a list of incredibly innovative climate change solutions (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, “Winners of 2017 UN Climate Solutions Awards Announced.”), the Plastic Bank is just one of many concrete and optimistic solutions being used to tackle poverty and climate change.
Positive solutions do exist, initiatives such as this that help both people and planet continue to be created and implemented. The next time you are trapped by news of despair, remember that the ability to create new resolutions has not yet run out — and maybe you can contrive the next game-changing initiatives that bring us one step closer to saving our world.
Page, Tom. “We’re Throwing Away a Fortune in Plastic Every Year. This Company Is Cleaning Up.” CNN, Accessed November 25, 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/15/world/plastic-bank-sustainable-brands-oceans-2019/index.html.
United Nations. “Ending Poverty.” Accessed November 25, 2019. https://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/poverty/.
McCarthy, Joe. “75% of All Plastic Ever Made Has Been Thrown Away and Other Startling Facts.” Global Citizen, Accessed November 25, 2019. .https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/75-of-all-plastic-ever-made-has-been-thrown-away-a/.
McCarthy, Joe. “In Haiti, People Can Exchange Plastic for Money and Goods at the ‘Plastic Bank.’” Global Citizen, Accessed November 25, 2019. https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/haiti-plastic-bank-recycling-poverty/.
Plastic Bank. “Philippines.” https://plasticbank.com/philippines/. Accessed November 25, 2019.
Plastic Bank. “Who We Are | Source Cause Solution to Stop Ocean Plastic.” Accessed November 25, 2019. https://plasticbank.com/who-we-are/.
Plastic Oceans International. “The Facts.” https://plasticoceans.org/the-facts/. Accessed November 25, 2019.
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. “Cleaning Our Oceans of Plastic | Haiti.” Accessed November 25, 2019. https://unfccc.int/climate-action/momentum-for-change/planetary-health/cleaning-our-oceans-of-plastic-haiti.
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. “Winners of 2017 UN Climate Solutions Awards Announced.” Accessed November 25, 2019. https //unfccc.int/news/winners-of-2017-un-climate-solutions-awards-announced.
World Bank. “Haiti Overview.” https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/haiti/overview. Accessed November 25, 2019.