"Social Plastic" as a Global Currency
6/6/2023 Sustainability Article

"Social Plastic" as a Global Currency

More and more retail companies and brand manufacturers are cooperating with the Plastic Bank. The criticism of climate labels and sustainability promises by consumer goods giants that is emerging in Germany has not yet affected the initiatives concerned with the topic of “social plastic.”

For a clean sea: Plastic Bank pays people, like here in Indonesia, to collect plastic waste on the beach. For a clean sea: Plastic Bank pays people, like here in Indonesia, to collect plastic waste on the beach.

Can plastic be social? Yes, says Canadian entrepreneur David Katz, who co-founded Plastic Bank in 2013. The principle of this company: in impoverished coastal regions, people collect plastic waste from roads, beaches, and shores, bring it to a collection point and are paid for it with credits. According to Katz’s goal, the “social plastic” is to become a globally recognized and tradable currency that reduces poverty and makes the planet cleaner. The plastic collected in countries such as Haiti or the Philippines is sorted and can then be fed into the recycling value chain – as Social Plastic: verification of the material by Plastic Bank confirms that the collectors have received an above-average price for the plastic waste. The recycled Social Plastic can be used in products or their packaging, thus closing the material cycle.

Brands as Good Role Models

Henkel was the first global consumer goods company in Germany to start a cooperation with Plastic Bank in 2017. The Aldi and Metro chains and snack manufacturer Lorenz are also among the partners. Consumer goods company Reckitt has also been working with Plastic Bank for more than a year. Reckitt says it produces 200,000 tons of plastic annually. “Accordingly, we face a big challenge if we want to make a difference. But we can make a big difference,” says Michaela Kuhndörfer, who is responsible for marketing in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland for the Sagrotan manufacturer, reports Lebensmittel Zeitung. The industry produces around 450 million metric tons of new plastic worldwide every year.

In September 2022, Reckitt made a twelve month commitment to make a financial contribution to Plastic Bank for every Finish, Sagrotan, Calgon, or Vanish item sold online. This was done to collect at least 100 tons of plastic from Plastic Bank before it enters the ocean – roughly equivalent to 5 million plastic bottles. Back in November, Reckitt reported that nearly 745000 plastic bottles had been collected from the environment. In a next step, Reckitt is using the same approach with a campaign with its the Sagrotan brand also in cooperation with Plastic Bank. For every package sold, a bottle will be collected elsewhere. “We want to set a good example with our efforts under the Sagrotan brand,” says Kuhndörfer. Once again, 8 million bottles are to be collected.

In recent months and years, campaigns that promise environmental sustainability have been and continue to be criticized, and Reckitt knows it. But Kuhndörfer also knows, “We need help from our partners to achieve our sustainability goals.” It is possible that “consumers don't buy it.” However, due to the international orientation and the trust in the data that is transported and can be viewed via blockchain, this is “the best solution at this point in time.”