Plastic Bank is a recycling success story: Commentary

March 22, 2023
The concept both reduces ocean pollution and benefits poor people in underdeveloped countries.
From the Spring 2023 issue of Plastics Recycling.

By Ron Shinn 

Happy Birthday to Plastic Bank! The nonprofit that builds networks in underdeveloped countries to collect and process plastic waste that is most likely headed to an ocean turns 10 years old in 2023.  

Plastic Bank exhibited at its first trade show in October, the K 2022 show in Düsseldorf, Germany, and drew plenty of attention. The organization had nine people in its booth and still could not talk to everyone who visited, according to David Katz, founder and chairman. 

I think it is a big deal that Plastic Bank is finding success. It dips into the recycling stream at the point where plastic is likely headed to an ocean. Very little ocean plastic comes from North America, but any plastic in the ocean reflects negatively on the material and the plastics industry everywhere. 

How do you measure Plastic Bank’s success? The Vancouver, British Columbia-based organization reports it has collected nearly 79,000 tons (71.6 million kilograms) of plastic, the equivalent of 3.6 billion bottles. The plastic waste is processed and sold to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) worldwide. 

SC Johnson has helped stop more than 2 billion bottles of ocean plastic, or about 40 million kilograms of plastic waste. Since 2018, SC Johnson has built and supported 491 collection points and more than 19,000 registered collectors in the Philippines, Indonesia and Brazil. The plastic collected in these ecosystems is recycled and reprocessed into recovered coastal plastic and integrated into SC Johnson’s products like Windex and Mr. Muscle containers. 

I am not sure which idea came first — to reduce ocean pollution or promote plastic recycling in ways that benefit poor people in underdeveloped countries. But Plastic Bank is accomplishing both goals. 

The Plastic Bank process is relatively simple. It organizes collection communities near oceans and rivers. Members gather waste plastic and bring it to local collection branches where they receive digital tokens and access to benefits such health, work and life insurance, social assistance, digital connectivity and banking services. Plastic Bank provides tools and workwear for collection members and says it is “empowering vulnerable communities with a path out of poverty.” 

The collected plastic waste is processed by companies that have partnered with Plastic Bank and the recycled material is sold to OEMs. All material is traceable through a blockchain-secured platform. 

Plastic Bank refers to the material it collects as social plastic, not recycled plastic. 

Critics might say that shipping recycled material into North America hurts the domestic recycling business. But the truth is that domestic recyclers cannot keep up with growing OEM demand for recycled material. For example, SC Johnson has said it wants to make 25 percent of its plastic packaging from post-consumer recycled content by 2025, up from 19 percent today. It has acknowledged that finding an adequate supply of recycled plastic is a challenge. 

Plastic resin is a global commodity and recycled resin is the same. Creating an ethical system that collects plastic waste and returns it to OEMs for new products is the goal and Plastic Bank is doing a good job. 

Any OEM that needs recycled PET, HDPE or LDPE would do well to consider joining Plastic Bank as a partner. 

Ron Shinn, editor

[email protected]

About the Author

Ron Shinn | Editor

Editor Ron Shinn is a co-founder of Plastics Machinery & Manufacturing and has been covering the plastics industry for more than 35 years. He leads the editorial team, directs coverage and sets the editorial calendar. He also writes features, including the Talking Points column and On the Factory Floor, and covers recycling and sustainability for PMM and Plastics Recycling.