Plastic BankThere are more microplastics in the ocean than there are stars in the Milky Way galaxy and the majority of this plastic waste comes from areas of extreme poverty, where recycling is simply not an option. Because a garbage truck’s worth of plastic is dumped into the ocean every minute, David Katz and Shaun Frankson were compelled to create the organization known as Plastic Bank. During a TED talk, Katz explains that the solution to this problem is to “turn off the tap,” since ridding the oceans of plastic waste may be futile. Thus, the organization was launched with two goals in mind: stopping the flow of plastic waste into the ocean, while simultaneously alleviating global poverty.

What is the Plastic Bank?

The Vancouver-based Plastic Bank, launched in 2013, is predicated around the idea of turning plastic waste into digital currency in impoverished communities. This gives plastic too much value to be simply dumped into the ocean. The organization touts the mantra, “Plastic is a resource — not waste.”

At numerous locally-run Plastic Bank locations, individuals turn in plastic they have collected from within their communities. In Haiti, more than 40 recycling centers have been established and plastic collectors earn as high as $5 per day in a country where the average citizen lives on $2 a day, according to the World Bank. Since 2015, the first Plastic Bank center opened in Haiti has collected an amount of plastic equivalent to more than 100 million plastic bottles.

The plastic is weighed and assigned a value, which is then deposited into an online account that can be accessed via a smartphone application. According to Frankson, 50 percent of people in Haiti have a smartphone that can run the app and those who do not can use plastic to buy a phone. The app uses blockchain technology on IBM’s LinuxONE servers, meaning that all transactions are tracked and free of any danger involved in a cash-based system, such as robbery or forgery. At Plastic Bank stores, individuals can use their credits to buy necessities such as water, food, sustainable cooking fuel, high-efficiency stoves and even medical insurance, school tuition, solar-powered smartphone charging and Wi-Fi access.

Another innovation is the app’s banking features. Utilizing the same blockchain technology to create a secure “hyper ledger,” users can build credit over time and eventually earn low-interest loans. Before this feature, this was a very uncommon opportunity in countries like Haiti since many citizens do not qualify for bank accounts.

The Advent of Social Plastic

Once the plastic is collected at recycling centers, it is cleaned, crushed into pellets and sold as what the organization calls Social Plastic, or a form of plastic that is more socially responsible. Social Plastic is purchased by companies and multinational corporations such as German Henkel, Shell, IBM and Marks & Spencer and is used directly in the manufacturing of their goods. According to Katz, Social Plastic is a “globally recognized currency“ that “alleviates poverty and cleans the environment at the same time.”

The Future of Plastic Bank

Currently, Plastic Bank is expanding operations to over two dozen countries and developing the app further, including IBM visual recognition technology to help users identify the value of certain plastics, like a barcode scanner in a store. Plastic Bank expects to entice major corporations such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Colgate-Palmolive to join the initiative. Plastic Bank currently operates in the Philippines, Haiti and Indonesia and is projected to have 530 locations by the end of 2019.

Adam Bentz
Photo: Flickr

Eco Cooler is Changing Lives in Bangladesh
Bangladesh is one of the worlds most populated countries and is also a country stricken with poverty. As of 2018, 21.8 percent of all people in Bangladesh were living below the poverty line. Sixty percent of the inhabitants of Bangladesh live in huts made of tin that become extremely hot in the summer months and in rural areas without access to electricity. Inhabitants of these areas often find it challenging to stay cool in the sweltering summer heat. Luckily, Ashis Paul, a Bangladesh native, invented an efficient, cheap way for people to cool down their homes. His invention, the eco cooler, is changing lives in Bangladesh.

The Eco Cooler

The reason that the eco cooler is so cost-efficient is that it comprises of objects that are always around and easy to find. These objects are old soda bottles. People do not regularly practice recycling in Bangladesh so the number of old soda bottles on the street is high. To assemble the eco cooler, Ashis Paul cut the soda bottles in half and placed them on a board with holes in it. After he mounted the cut bottles onto the board, he placed the board over a window with the wide end of the soda bottles facing outside of the house.

The Way the Eco Cooler Works

The science behind the eco cooler is somewhat simple. The idea of creating the eco cooler came to Paul when he overhead his daughter’s physics teacher giving a lesson about how when a gas expands rapidly, it cools. The more scientific term for this phenomenon is the Joule-Thomson effect which has to do with the gas temperature dropping when it expands rapidly. When the air enters the house through the large end and passes through the small end of the soda bottle, the pressure drops and the cooling occurs, making the air on the inside of the house cooler than on the outside.

Paul claims that the eco cooler is changing lives in Bangladesh by reducing temperatures to up to five degrees celsius, but a scientific study that mimicked the design of the eco cooler claims that the device can only cool rooms up to two degrees celsius. Still, two degrees celsius is a noticeable difference.

Partnership with Grey Dhaka

Grey Dhaka is a communication company in Bangladesh that teamed up with Paul to spread the news about eco coolers, helping distribute them to civilians. Grey has also posted videos online detailing how to create these eco coolers. Since the birth of this invention, Grey Dhaka and Paul have installed eco coolers in 25,000 homes in Bangladesh and are helping many people fight the extreme heat of the summer months.

The eco cooler is changing lives in Bangladesh. It is a cheap solution for beating the heat and is accessible to everyone, even those living in poverty. Simply making an eco cooler also benefits the planet by providing an alternative use for plastic bottles that would otherwise be considered waste. The eco cooler is a green, sustainable alternative to regular air conditioning and it also helps fight the energy crisis, which has to do with using limited resources to create energy.

– Joslin Hughson
Photo: Flickr

Goonj
Goonj is a non-governmental organization working in various parts of India. It aims to share unused and unrequired materials from urban households with people living in rural areas to fulfill their needs. The organization believes that countries and economies can use urban discard to alleviate poverty and enhance the dignity of the poor.

The organization works across 23 states in India with 250 partner groups. It has offices with 150 full-time people and thousands of volunteers. The organization receives about 80-100 tonnes of material each month and turns it into material that people can productively use in the remote and impoverished areas of the country. In its latest annual report for 2017 to 2018, Goonj highlights that it has been able to reach over 3,600 villages in India and has dealt with more than 4,000 tonnes of material.

Various Initiatives

Goonj has performed various activities in different fields of work from 2017 to 2018. Some of its highlights include sanitation activities where it repurposed basic essentials like clothes and utility items into materials for women to use during menstruation. In addition to this, its initiative, Not just a Piece of Cloth, also aims to break the culture of shame and silence around menstruation. It turns these cloths into biodegradable clothes for women to use. When people from urban areas contribute their cotton bed sheets, curtains and shirts, the organization turns them into cloth pads for women in rural areas. It also holds gatherings for women to talk openly about the issue of menstruation, which many still consider a stigma in Indian society.

In the field of education, Goonj’s initiative School to School works towards using urban school material to address gaps in the rural education systems in India. Goonj was able to share 39,416 school kits to over 2,100 schools and 1,200 educational setups in villages. In addition, children in rural areas learn value for their belongings as they take up various educational and behavioral change activities which reward them these school kits. Not only does this initiative provide the poor with resources for education, but it also teaches them values.

Other areas of work that the organization focuses on are road repairs, disaster relief and health that it can perform with the excess raw materials it receives. Its initiative Cloth for Work works on rural developmental activities while Raahat provides disaster relief. Meanwhile, Green, an in-house brand, creates items from the last bits of materials it receives. These are also extremely successful ventures and have impacted a large population of the country.

Awards and Recognition

Goonj has received various awards for the work it does all over India. In 2012, NASA and the U.S. State Department chose it as a Game-Changing Innovation and in the same year, Forbes magazine listed Anshu Gupta, Goonj’s founder, as one of India’s most powerful rural entrepreneurs. In recognition of its important work, Goonj has received the Japanese Award for Most Innovative Development Project by the Global Development Fund and continues to impact the country to build sustainability and impact the rural population.

– Isha Akshita Mahajan
Photo: Flickr