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Plastic Bank and IBM

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Tackling ocean plastic and global poverty with blockchain-based token rewards

As scientists predict more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050, what can we do to protect the natural world? Working with IBM and service provider Cognition Foundry, Plastic Bank is mobilizing recycling entrepreneurs from amongst the world’s poorest communities to clean up plastic waste in return for life-changing goods.

Working together for a cleaner, more prosperous planet

Every minute, the equivalent of one garbage truck of plastic waste enters our oceans—a total of 8 million metric tons a year. This plastic waste litters the seafloor and floats on the surface in vast plastic patches, poisoning seabirds and other marine life. By the year 2050, one estimate suggests there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans. Founded in May 2013, social enterprise Plastic Bank aims to tackle ocean pollution head-on.

David Katz, Founder and CEO of Plastic Bank, lays out his vision: “Years ago, I sat watching the aquarium in Manila Harbor and saw the trash floating on the surface and scattered on the bottom. As a nature-lover, I decided then and there to take action to cut the flow of plastic waste into the ocean.”

Much of the plastic originates in underdeveloped countries with minimal waste management infrastructure, where citizens often survive on less than a dollar a day.

“I realized we had to challenge our perception of plastic, and make it too valuable a commodity to simply throw away into a river or stream,” notes David Katz. “At Plastic Bank, we encourage citizens to collect plastic waste and deliver it to our local processing centers. In return, they earn life-changing rewards like schooling for their children, food or phone top-ups. We then grind the plastic into pellets and sell this back to manufacturers to re-use as an ethically-sourced raw material.”

By turning citizens in the world’s poorest countries into recycling entrepreneurs, Plastic Bank aims both to clean up the ocean and to lift millions out of poverty across the globe.

David Katz continues: “When we began our journey, we relied on pen and paper to record transactions between Plastic Bank and the citizens bringing us plastic to recycle. To grow into a truly global platform for change, we needed a high-performance, enterprise-ready IT system.”  

Thanks to IBM, we are transforming the lives of millions of the most disadvantaged people on earth, and realizing our vision for cleaner oceans.

 David Katz, CEO, Plastic Bank

To support its plans for global expansion, Plastic Bank selected IBM Blockchain technology delivered on a private cloud by managed service provider Cognition Foundry, powered by IBM® LinuxONE™. Blockchain is used to track the entire cycle of recycled plastic from collection, credit and compensation through delivery to companies for re-use.

Ron Argent, CEO of Cognition Foundry, takes up the story: “We approached Plastic Bank just after they had completed their pilot project. At that point, the enterprise had no core IT systems. Many startups in that position opt for low-cost commodity products from the major megacloud providers. Rather than head down that route, we advised Plastic Bank that building an IT environment on LinuxONE would deliver unrivalled performance levels that commodity hardware could not match.”

LinuxONE servers offer massive scalability instantaneously, thanks to a low-latency architecture that enables rapid transaction processing and high-speed virtual networking.

Ron Argent continues: “As a service provider, LinuxONE allows us to set up a complete IT infrastructure capable of supporting millions of users in the blink of an eye, for clients like Plastic Bank. LinuxONE also delivers exceptional security that we pass on to our clients. With completely separate user environments running on the server, there is no risk of anyone hacking into sensitive data—unlike commodity offerings where you could be sharing storage space with malware.”

Plastic Bank and Cognition Foundry worked with the IBM Client Center Montpellier team to develop a system of blockchain-powered token rewards based on IBM Blockchain to underpin the recycling of plastic waste in exchange for valuable commodities. Together, Plastic Bank’s blockchain token rewards and exchange platform for recycling incentivize the collection of plastic, preventing it from becoming ocean plastic.

Shaun Frankson, Co-Founder and Chief Strategist at Plastic Bank, explains: “Blockchain makes our entire enterprise viable. With the IBM team, we developed a system of token rewards based on Blockchain that monetizes plastic waste and records transactions at the micro-level. As these micro-transactions add up, they form the credits that the waste collectors use to earn useful goods that can help them to transcend poverty.”

He continues: “It was vital for us to have a complete solution ready from the get-go, one that didn’t just meet our current requirements but one we would still be using twenty years from now. We cannot afford to grow a little, then stop and rebuild our tech environment to keep pace with an ever-growing number of users. Crucially, LinuxONE provides the capacity for us to scale to meet demand without any slowdowns or loss of momentum. The in-depth experience of the IBM team meant we didn’t face any dead-ends or holdups in development. There was no learning curve—we simply got things right the first time.”

Regarding dependability, Ron Argent describes the legacy of LinuxONE: “Governments and leading banks have relied on this technology to support critical operations for over five decades. In that time, LinuxONE has evolved to a mature technology, offering unbeatable resilience and robustness. And by partnering with IBM, we enjoy the support of the very best brains in the business, dedicated to the success of our clients.”  

LinuxONE is a mature technology, offering unbeatable resilience and robustness. By partnering with IBM, we enjoy the support of the very best brains in the business, dedicated to the success of our clients.

 Ron Argent, CEO, Cognition Foundry

Results story

Expanding globally to improve the lives of millions

Supported by IBM, Plastic Bank is well on its way to fulfilling its goal of cleaning up the world’s oceans and alleviating poverty.

Shaun Frankson elaborates: “As a startup business, our partnership with IBM and Cognition Foundry has been invaluable. It provides the knowledge and connections that have transformed us from a minor enterprise working with pen and paper to effectively having our own leading-edge technology division overnight—without the need to take time out to find a CTO who bought into our concept, or invest our funds in development.”

All of those relationships depend on trust. As David Katz puts it: “At the heart of Plastic Bank is trust in our token rewards. When we started out, we saw that for people to buy into our vision, both waste collectors and manufacturers had to have total confidence in the process.

“IBM Blockchain gives us a single, irrefutable hyperledger that cannot be tampered with. That means people in the most disadvantaged countries, and the companies who buy our recycled plastic, can have complete faith in the integrity of our enterprise. They know that when working with us, they get a fair deal. In many of the countries that we operate in, it can be dangerous to carry large amounts of cash, and the Blockchain helps ensure a safe and secure payment transfer for our recyclers.

“The supply chain transparency also means our corporate partners can track every dollar they invest in our project, and follow it down through the hyperledger chain all the way to the level of the local recycling entrepreneurs they support. They know there is no waste or skimming, and can see the positive impact they make on the world’s poorest communities by buying our recycled products.”

With interest in its recycled products growing, Plastic Bank is now extending the scale of its operations. Having set up its first recycling centers in Haiti, Plastic Bank is currently developing a presence in South-East Asia and South America, in some of the countries that contribute the greatest volume of plastic waste into the ocean, including China, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines.

David Katz shares the vision: “In the long term, we hope to expand and roll out our platform all around the world. We are on our way to changing the way that people value plastic, and getting closer to the day when it becomes harder to spot plastic waste in our oceans. In the future, we really believe we can end the production of new plastic with our recycled products.”

He concludes: “We started this journey with nothing more than the dream of creating a cleaner planet. I knew that we could no longer sit by and watch as plastic waste causes terrible damage to the natural world. Today, we are fighting back against marine pollution, and cutting off the flow at its source. Thanks to our work with IBM, we are transforming the lives of millions of the most disadvantaged people on earth, and realizing our vision for cleaner oceans, free from plastic waste.”  

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