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TED@IBM

David Katz: The surprising solution to ocean plastic

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Can we solve the problem of ocean plastic pollution and end extreme poverty at the same time? That's the ambitious goal of The Plastic Bank: a worldwide chain of stores where everything from school tuition to cooking fuel and more is available for purchase in exchange for plastic garbage -- which is then sorted, shredded and sold to brands who reuse "social plastic" in their products. Join David Katz to learn more about this step towards closing the loop in the circular economy. "Preventing ocean plastic could be humanity's richest opportunity," Katz says.

- Plastics alchemist
David is founder and CEO of The Plastic Bank, the world’s only organization to monetize plastic waste and provide an opportunity for the world's disadvantaged to collect and trade plastic waste as a currency. Full bio

We've had it all wrong.
00:12
Everybody.
00:16
We've had it all wrong.
00:17
The very last thing we need to do
00:20
is clean the ocean.
00:23
Very last.
00:26
Yeah, there is a garbage truck of plastic
00:28
entering the ocean
00:32
every minute
00:34
of every hour of every day.
00:35
And countless birds and animals
00:39
are dying just from encountering plastic.
00:41
We are experiencing
the fastest rate of extinction ever,
00:46
and plastic is in the food chain.
00:50
And I'm still here,
standing in front of you,
00:53
telling you the very last
thing we need to do
00:55
is clean the ocean.
00:59
Very last.
01:01
If you were to walk into a kitchen,
01:05
sink overflowing,
01:08
water spilling all over the floor,
01:10
soaking into the walls,
01:12
you had to think fast,
you're going to panic;
01:14
you've got a bucket, a mop or a plunger.
01:17
What do you do first?
01:20
Why don't we turn off the tap?
01:23
It would be pointless to mop
01:26
or plunge or scoop up the water
01:28
if we don't turn off the tap first.
01:31
Why aren't we doing the same
for the ocean?
01:35
Even if the Ocean Cleanup project,
01:38
beach plastic recycling programs
01:43
or any well-meaning
01:47
ocean plastic company
01:50
was a hundred percent successful,
01:53
it would still be too little, too late.
01:56
We're trending to produce
over 300 million ton
02:01
of plastic this year.
02:05
Roughly eight million ton
02:09
are racing to flow into the ocean
02:12
to join the estimated
150 million ton already there.
02:14
Reportedly, 80 percent of ocean plastic
02:21
is coming from those countries
that have extreme poverty.
02:26
And if you live in the grips of poverty
02:31
concerned, always, about food
02:34
or shelter
02:38
or a sense of security,
02:40
recycling --
02:43
it's beyond your realm of imagination.
02:45
And that is exactly why
02:50
I created the Plastic Bank.
02:54
We are the world's largest chain of stores
02:58
for the ultra-poor,
03:00
where everything in the store
is available to be purchased
03:04
using plastic garbage.
03:07
Everything.
03:09
School tuition.
03:11
Medical insurance.
03:13
Wi-Fi, cell phone minutes, power.
03:15
Sustainable cooking fuel,
high-efficiency stoves.
03:18
And we keep wanting to add everything else
03:23
that the world may need and can't afford.
03:25
Our chain of stores in Haiti
are more like community centers,
03:32
where one of our collectors,
03:38
Lise Nasis,
03:40
has the opportunity to earn a living
03:43
by collecting material from door to door,
03:46
from the streets,
03:49
from business to business.
03:51
And at the end of her day,
she gets to bring the material back to us,
03:54
where we weigh it,
we check it for quality,
03:58
and we transfer the value
into her account.
04:00
Lise now has a steady,
04:07
reliable source of income.
04:10
And that value we transfer
into an online account for her.
04:14
And because it's a savings account,
it becomes an asset
04:19
that she can borrow against.
04:23
And because it's online,
04:25
she has security against robbery,
04:29
and I think more importantly,
04:32
she has a new sense of worth.
04:35
And even the plastic
04:37
has a new sense of value.
04:39
Hm.
04:45
And that plastic we collect,
04:48
and we add value to,
04:51
we sort it,
04:56
we remove labels,
04:58
we remove caps.
05:00
We either shred it
05:04
or we pack it into bales
and get it ready for export.
05:06
Now, it's no different
than walking over acres of diamonds.
05:12
If Lise was to walk over acres of diamonds
05:17
but there was no store, no bank,
05:19
no way to use the diamonds,
no way to exchange them,
05:21
they'd be worthless, too.
05:25
And Lise was widowed
05:29
after the 2010 Haitian earthquake,
05:32
left homeless without an income.
05:35
And as a result of the program,
05:37
Lise can afford her two
daughters' school tuition
05:40
and uniforms.
05:43
Now, that plastic
05:46
we sell.
05:49
We sell it to suppliers of great brands
05:53
like Marks and Spencer,
05:56
who have commissioned
the use of social plastic
05:57
in their products.
06:01
Or like Henkel,
06:04
the German consumer-goods company,
06:06
who are using social plastic
directly into their manufacturing.
06:09
We've closed the loop
06:13
in the circular economy.
06:16
Now buy shampoo
06:20
or laundry detergent
06:23
that has social plastic packaging,
06:24
and you are indirectly contributing
06:28
to the extraction of plastic
from ocean-bound waterways
06:30
and alleviating poverty
06:34
at the same time.
06:36
And that model
06:39
is completely replicable.
06:41
In São Paulo,
06:44
a church sermon encourages parishioners
06:46
to not just bring offering on Sunday,
06:48
but the recycling, too.
06:50
We then match the church with the poor.
06:53
Or, I believe more powerfully,
06:56
we could match a mosque in London
with an impoverished church in Cairo.
06:58
Or like in Vancouver,
07:02
with our bottle-deposit program:
07:04
now any individual
07:07
or any group
07:09
can now return
07:11
their deposit-refundable recyclables,
07:12
and instead of taking back the cash,
07:15
they have the opportunity
to deposit that value
07:18
into the account of the poor
around the world.
07:20
We can now use our recycling
07:24
to support and create recyclers.
07:27
One bottle deposited at home
07:30
could help extract
hundreds around the world.
07:33
Or, like Shell,
07:37
the energy company,
07:39
who's invested in our
plastic-neutral program.
07:41
Plastic neutrality is like carbon-neutral.
07:44
But plastic neutrality invests
in recycling infrastructure
07:48
where it doesn't exist.
07:52
And it provides an incentive for the poor
07:55
by providing a price increase.
07:57
Or --
08:00
like in the slums of Manila,
08:02
where the smallest market
08:04
with a simple scale and a phone
08:08
can now accept social plastic
08:11
as a new form of payment by weight,
08:13
allowing them to serve more people
08:16
and have their own greater social impact.
08:20
And what's common here
08:25
is that social plastic
08:29
is money.
08:31
Social plastic is money,
08:33
a globally recognizable and tradable
currency that, when used,
08:36
alleviates poverty
and cleans the environment
08:40
at the same time.
08:43
It's not just plastic.
08:47
It's not recycled plastic,
it's social plastic,
08:49
a material whose value is transferred
08:53
through the lives
of the people who encounter it,
08:56
rich and poor.
08:59
Humans have produced
09:04
over eight trillion kilograms of plastic,
09:05
most of it still here as waste.
09:08
Eight trillion kilograms.
09:12
Worth roughly 50 cents a kilo,
09:13
we're potentially unleashing
a four-trillion-dollar value.
09:17
See, I see social plastic
09:23
as the Bitcoin for the earth --
09:26
(Laughter)
09:28
and available for everyone.
09:29
Now the entire ecosystem
is managed and supported
09:37
through an online banking platform
09:40
that provides for the safe,
authentic transfer of value globally.
09:44
You can now deposit your recyclables
in Vancouver or Berlin,
09:49
and a family could withdraw
building bricks or cell phone minutes
09:53
in the slums of Manila.
09:57
Or Lise --
09:59
she could deposit recycling
at a center in Port-au-Prince,
10:02
and her mother could withdraw
cooking fuel or cash
10:05
across the city.
10:07
And the app adds rewards,
10:11
incentives,
10:13
group prizes,
10:15
user rating.
10:17
We've gamified recycling.
10:20
We add fun and formality
10:23
into an informal industry.
10:26
We're operating in Haiti
and the Philippines.
10:31
We've selected staff
10:34
and partners for Brazil.
10:36
And this year, we're committing
to India and Ethiopia.
10:39
We're collecting hundreds
10:44
and hundreds of tons of material.
10:46
We continue to add partners
10:49
and customers,
10:51
and we increase our collection
volumes every day.
10:55
Now as a result
of our program with Henkel,
10:59
they've committed to use
over 100 million kilograms
11:02
of material every year.
11:06
That alone will put
hundreds of millions of dollars
11:10
into the hands of the poor
11:13
in the emerging economies.
11:15
And so now,
11:20
we can all
11:22
be a part of the solution
11:25
and not the pollution.
11:27
And so, OK, maybe
cleaning the ocean is futile.
11:31
It might be.
11:35
But preventing ocean plastic
11:37
could be humanity's richest opportunity.
11:40
Thank you.
11:45
(Applause)
11:46

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About the speaker:

David Katz - Plastics alchemist
David is founder and CEO of The Plastic Bank, the world’s only organization to monetize plastic waste and provide an opportunity for the world's disadvantaged to collect and trade plastic waste as a currency.

Why you should listen

David Katz is the founder and CEO of The Plastic Bank, an internationally recognized solution to ocean plastic. The Plastic Bank is a global network of micro-recycling markets that empower the poor to transcend poverty by cleaning the environment. It's an eco-system that provides an opportunity for the world to collect and trade plastic waste as a currency. Global partners include IBM, Shell Energy and Henkel.

Katz is the recipient of the 2017 United Nations Lighthouse award for Planetary Health, recipient of the Paris Climate Conference Sustainia community award, is the Past President of the Vancouver Chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), and named the Entrepreneur Organizations, Global Citizen. He has also been named one of the world’s most compassionate entrepreneurs by Salt magazine.  

His humanitarian work has earned him international recognition. Katz has been featured in Forbes, TIME Magazine, Fast Company and National Geographic. He's featured in an award-winning documentary and starred in an international reality television show. David is a steward of the earth and a champion for the poor.

More profile about the speaker
David Katz | Speaker | TED.com