Meet the most important bank you’ve never heard of

08 Oct 2019

Meet the most important bank you’ve never heard of

Can Plastic Bank turn the tide and make a dent in the world’s most-enduring ocean pollutant?

The statistics about plastic waste are jaw-dropping. In 1950, a world population of 2.5 billion produced 1.5 million tons of plastic. In 2016, seven billion people produced over 320 million tons of plastic. And this is set to double by 2034.

Every day, approximately eight million pieces of plastic pollution find their way into our oceans. Recent studies have revealed marine plastic pollution in 100% of marine turtles, 59% of whales, 36% of seals and 40% of seabird species examined.

Doing something about plastic

Rather than simply grimace at these horrific numbers, some visionary leaders have been doing far, far more.

One of them is David Katz, CEO and co-founder with Shaun Frankson of Plastic Bank. It’s a Vancouver-based for-profit organisation launched in 2013. Their mission is simple. Stop ocean plastic by “gathering a billion people together to monetise waste, while improving lives”. 

Plastic Bank pays people above-market prices for the plastic waste they collect.

The waste collected is then ground into flakes and transported on cargo ships that would otherwise have returned empty to North America or Europe.

Paying with plastic

Plastic Bank, Katz declares, is a “root cause solution to prevent the flow of plastic into our oceans”. Reportedly 80% of ocean plastic is coming from those countries that have extreme poverty.

“We are,” says Katz, “the world’s largest chain of stores for the ultra-poor. Everything in the store is available to be purchased using plastic garbage: school tuition, medical insurance, power, sustainable cooking fuel, high-efficiency stoves...”.

Adds Katz: “The only way to stop ocean plastic is to reveal the value in plastic by transferring as much value as possible into the hands of the collectors.”

Katz even spent a week at the Vatican, where he met the Pope, to see how the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics could help tackle the plastic problem. “What if each of them could bring 500g of plastic to church with them? That is enough to change the world.”

Who are the plastic people?

When it comes to hiring people to join the Plastic Bank revolution, what does Katz look for? “I look at who they are: do they have a general ‘being’ to bring people together and to create conduits of change; do they want to be bold? I look for people who are enlivened by the values that we both share.”

Katz admits it’s hard to find the right people. When he does find the right person, it leaves him with what amounts to a moral dilemma.”

If I say yes to you, I say no to every other available candidate in the world. Why are you the right person? Who are you? What’s the differentiator? All candidates say: ‘This is my purpose in life, I want to save the oceans.’ Great. Everyone does. But what’s your differentiator? Who are you? Can you create, build, accomplish, overcome and persevere? I look for people who get out of the realm of their own lack of ability.”

Katz is also keener to employ women, for the simple reason that “men inherently seek to win; women inherently seek to win-win. They naturally want others to win.”

When asked if he has to create or invent new roles for such a disruptive business his answer is, well, unexpected.

“We make shit up as we go! We don’t know what roles need to be created, because this [Plastic Bank] has not been done in the world before.”

As the plastic waste crisis deepens by the hour, we can only be thankful that Katz and Frankson came up with such a brilliantly simple, yet highly effective solution to this desperate problem. It is a perfect example of where the circular economy is at its most effective.

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