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    shaun frankson

shaun frankson: responsible consumers will change the world

Every single minute of every single day, one fully packed garbage truck’s worth of plastic (around 34,000 pounds) is dumped into our oceans. That’s 1,440 garbage trucks each day, killing millions of animals each year, and devastating quality of life for residents of vulnerable areas including parts of Peru, the Philippines, and Haiti. Poverty and plastic waste have gone hand in hand for a long time – me Convention Stockholm alum Shaun Frankson asks that conscious consumers put an end to both.

Along with his co-founder David Katz, Shaun started Plastic Bank: ‘A social enterprise that turns plastic waste into currency’. Through Plastic Bank, people in underserved regions of the world —- places where it’s not always safe to carry cash but residents don’t make enough money to qualify for bank accounts — can make a real, dignified living for themselves and their families by collecting and recycling plastic that would otherwise be “disposed of” in our oceans. Since Plastic Bank was established in 2013, it has been the subject of over 300 media features and received over one million social media likes… Which is impressive, surely, but also more meaningful than you might realize. When Plastic Bank asks for a Facebook “like”, it’s not just marketing. They’re asking for your vote for ‘Social Plastic ®’, or corporate commodification of plastic waste. If big (and well-funded) companies buy Social Plastic ®, they fund oceanic cleanup and lift people out of poverty. And the more these companies invest, the more this plastic currency is worth.

Photo: Stocksy/Jelena Jojic Tomic

what does it mean to vote with your dollar?

What this ultimately represents is a power shift. In a world where corporations supply products to meet consumer demand, consumers ultimately have the power… and responsible consumers make sure to use that power wisely. As it turns out, when millions of people ‘vote’ for Social Plastic ® with a Facebook like, and thousands of people tweet at big companies directly, requesting that they participate in Plastic Bank’s program… These companies sit up and pay attention. So if consumers only buy from companies that make a positive social impact, every company will start to prioritize making a positive social impact. That’s just good business.

One such massively powerful corporate partner is IBM. IBM saw the opportunity to make an impact and make their customers happy, and now they’re developing blockchain technologies to help Plastic Bank achieve their vision; which, by the way, is to gather one billion people to monetize plastic waste. Individuals can contribute directly, too. You can ‘go plastic neutral’ by giving $44.00 USD per year. (The math: Your offset is priced at $0.52 per kg. The average person uses 84 kg of plastic — a staggering 4,200 plastic bottles — per year. $0.52 x 84 = $44.00.) That’s $44.00 annually to remove 4,200 plastic bottles from the ocean while providing income to people in need.

Again, $44.00 doesn’t sound like so much when we’re talking about the trillions of dollars needed to rid the ocean of plastic and end poverty. But if you start by voting with the dollars in your bank account, and then demand support from the companies you patronize, things start to add up. You may be just one person, but you’re more powerful than you realize.

Photo: Stocksy/Marilar Irastorza

a tipping point

And why is the mission to gather one billion people? Shaun and David know they’re not going to get everyone on the planet to vote for Social Plastic ® with their dollars. But if they can get one billion people, they have a tipping point: Supporting Plastic Bank, then, won’t be a fringe thing or a millennial thing, it will just be the right thing. And for the most part, if they’re able, humans really do want to do the right thing.

It’s becoming easier to do the right thing, too. With crowdfunding networks, petition sites like change.org, and community driven companies like Plastic Bank doing the work of community organizing, we have become empowered to empower others with a click, a tweet, or a small donation. Cleaning the ocean and ending poverty… Those are two massive endeavors. But as we all become more responsible consumers — as we come to learn our options, use our voices, and step into our power — a cleaner, safer, more just future becomes possible.

Watch Shaun’s full talk here and join the movement on Facebook (all it takes is a ‘like’).

Disclaimer: The views of me Convention speakers do not necessarily reflect the opinions of either Mercedes-Benz and/or SXSW.