Vancouver-based Plastic Bank Wins Global Award at Cop21

Plastic Pollution

By Maura Forrest

December 17, 2015

A Vancouver-based business has won the 2015 Sustainia Community Award at the Paris climate conference, after competing against nine other top sustainable innovations from around the world.

The Plastic Bank is a social enterprise that allows people in developing nations to collect discarded plastic and bring it to a recycling facility. In exchange, the people receive cash or goods and services, like cooking oil or Internet access.

“The inspiration for The Plastic Bank comes from our desire to keep plastic out of the ocean,” said spokesperson Sean Macmillan in an interview with the Vancouver Observer. “Our goal is to prohibit the flow of plastic from ever entering the ocean by revealing the value in plastic throughout the developing world. When people can exchange plastic waste as a currency, it becomes too valuable to throw away.”

Lush Cosmetics was the first company to use the recycled plastic – called Social Plastic – in one of its bottle lines.

The Plastic Bank is actively looking for other companies to use the recycled material, and it has launched a social media campaign that encourages people to tweet at their favourite brands and ask them to use Social Plastic.

The company launched operations in Haiti in early 2015, after completing a pilot project in Peru last year.

The Plastic Bank also hopes to help the people who gather the plastic to use it themselves. The company partnered with the University of British Columbia to build an extruder – a device that transforms plastic waste into a long filament that can be fed into a 3-D printer.

In 2014, the Plastic Bank created a 3-D item from recycled ocean plastic, which it claimed was the world’s first. And in an October 2015 interview with Plastics News, company co-founder David Katz said he had “just shipped an extruder and printer to Haiti.” He hoped to be producing 3-D printed items in Haiti within a month.

The Sustainia Community Award winner is chosen by online voters, while a second award winner is chosen by committee. This year’s Sustainia Award went to a street design project in Chennai, India, that aims to make transportation in the city more “people-friendly.”

The Sustainia Awards are given annually to “a solution, technology or project with a significant potential to help build a more sustainable future.”