(CNN)We're hooked on plastic, but too often we're careless consumers. Waste plastic is entering our ecosystems and food chain with untold consequences; we're still not sure what the long-term effects will be on our own bodies.
We're throwing away a fortune in plastic every year. This company is cleaning up
Cleaning up our polluted world may seem a noble, if thankless task. However, some people are seeing economic opportunity in the mission.
Plastic Bank, a social enterprise from Canada, says it is monetizing plastic recycling while empowering those most affected by the waste. It works to prevent plastic waste from entering oceans by incentivizing people in developing countries to collect plastic from their communities in exchange for cash or good and services -- be it food, clean water or school tuition for their children.
After collection, plastic is weighed, sorted, chipped, melted into pellets and sold on as "raw material feedstock" to be manufactured into everything from bottles for cleaning products to clothing.
"I saw an abundance; I saw an opportunity," CEO David Katz told an audience at the Sustainable Brands Oceans conference in Porto, Portugal on November 14. "We inherently reveal the value in this material," he added, describing the company as "plastic alchemists."
Plastic Bank was founded in 2013 and launched on the ground operations in 2014 in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, where close to 60% of the population lives under the poverty line. Katz described poor waste disposal and recycling infrastructure, plastic waste entering rivers or being burned -- and the respiratory health threats the latter poses.
The company says it has over 2,000 collectors working in the country, with its full-time collectors on average 63% above the poverty line thanks to the income they make from the scheme. Through its app-based payment system, many collectors now have bank accounts for the first time, and are able to ultimately escape ultra-poverty, explained Katz.
Plastic Bank has subsequently expanded into the Philippines, Indonesia and recently Brazil, collaborating with household goods corporations S.C. Johnson and Henkel, helping to set up the stores where collectors trade in their plastic. Since it started, over 6.3 million kilograms of plastic