Trash to treasure: Recycling plastic saves ocean, fights poverty with Linux technology and blockchain

6 Posted by - February 17, 2017 - Blog

By Bill Stark, Worldwide Portfolio Marketing Manager, IBM LinuxONE

“If it doesn’t stop, we’re all going to die!”

That sounds dramatic but it’s accurate. It’s a problem we may be aware of, but most of us are either ignoring, giving up on, or waiting for someone else to fix. If “it” doesn’t stop, our Ocean will die.

What is “it?”

You are touching it right now. It’s everywhere, helping us live longer, move faster, fly higher and eat better. But it’s also killing the marine environment, threatening the entire ecosystem of the planet. What is this ubiquitous, miraculous, versatile, underappreciated, toxic substance?


Plastic is filling the bellies and bodies of marine animals at an astonishing rate. The new film Plastic Ocean, described by Sir David Attenborough as “the most important film of our time,” will shock you with its depiction of the sudden and rapidly increasing buildup of plastic in our Ocean.  Everyone should see it – just once. Then we can shift to focusing on the solution, not the problem.

David Katz, the CEO and Founder of startup The Plastic Bank, taught me something powerful about plastic, and more importantly about how our perceptions affect our behavior. David’s deep understanding of the world of plastic has helped him devise a solution to change behavior today, to change the world of tomorrow.

David and his co-founder Shaun are working with Cognition Foundry, using IBM LinuxONE and Blockchain as the platform for their solution. (Cognition Foundry just won an IBM Beacon Award for it.)


The Secret? The value is already there… it just needed to be revealed

The revelation driving this startup and fueling their solution is that the problem is not plastic – it is that we don’t see the value in plastic. We use and discard plastic, rarely recycling it, because we perceive it to be worthless. A plastic spoon, once used, is discarded.  Unfortunately plastic doesn’t break down. It breaks up, but never goes away. Instead, it goes somewhere. Sometimes that’s a landfill, but with terrifying frequency it finds its way into our Ocean. The equivalent of a garbage truck full of plastic enters our Ocean every minute of every day. 8 million tons a year.

But we recycle it – right?  Yes, a whopping 10% of it is recycled. 90% of the plastic we make is discarded.  That’s where the Plastic Bank comes in. By revealing the value of plastic, David and Shaun are changing behavior.

Recycling: The Plastic Bank changes trash into treasure

 Most of the plastic entering our Ocean comes from areas where the economy is vulnerable and poverty pervades. The mountains of plastic piling up have no perceived worth, and no amount of cajoling will motivate people who are living hand to mouth to exert any time or energy to recycling it. So the Plastic Bank pays them for the discarded plastic.  People who collect plastic receive compensation in the form of necessities like cooking oil, electricity and food. The plastic is then sold to companies who re-use it.  That changes everything.

Trust creates possibility

This amazingly simple premise of revealing inherent value has many potential applications. David and Shaun have very big dreams. To succeed, they need to earn and keep trust. The collectors trust them with their personal information as well as their Plastic Bank balances. The companies who buy Social Plastic trust that inventories are where and what they are supposed to be, and the entire transaction cycle is bona fide. They are using Blockchain to create transparency and trust on an IBM LinuxONE system for added security and the ability to scale to millions of users. What they are creating is more a platform than a business.

Watch this video to learn more:

How can you help? Start by following The Plastic Bank and asking companies to use #SocialPlastic.

You can find them on Twitter @plasticbank and Facebook and You Tube.