„Plastic is Not The Problem, It’s Us“

In an exclusive interview with packaging-360.com, David Katz, founder and CEO of the social enterprise Plastic Bank, talks about the value of plastic. Every individual should examine their own behavior, he says, because it’s consumers, not manufacturers, who carelessly throw away plastic.

Why are you called a bank?

David Katz: The value is the plastic. Imagine a scenario where people find a field full of diamonds but have no way to take them to a bank to exchange them. Then diamonds are of no use to them. We want to give value to plastic byrevealing its true economic value, we are enabling the exchange of all kinds of plastic for currency and bonuses – monetizing plastic waste while improving the lives of collector communities.

Briefly describe what Plastic Bank does.

Katz: Plastic Bank sets up ethical recycling ecosystems in countries that lack sufficient waste management infrastructure and have high rates of pollution and poverty. We set up collection locations and employ citizens of those regions to manage these ecosystems. Residents in those regions can collect plastic from their environment and bring it to their local Plastic Bank branch in exchange for money, and other basic family necessities such as groceries, cooking fuel, school tuition, and health insuranc. Collectors are paid bonuses in addition to the market plastic value, which ensures a stable, liveable income.

In Germany, there are movements that oppose the use of plastic altogether or don’t want packaging. Others claim that companies like Coca–Cola are just greenwashing, that the amount of Ocean plastic is still low. What do you say to that?

Katz: Each of us should start with ourselves before telling others what to do. People are quick to criticize out loud, but now it’s time for us all to act, time to take action. Of course, the big companies can do more to be more sustainable. But let’s start by saying what we – as individuals can do. Integrating any amount of social plastic is better than none at all.

It’s not the corporations that are the problem, it’s us. That’s why we are where we are now. If each bottle cost 5 euros or 5 dollars, no one would throw it away. It’s not the plastic that’s the problem, or Coca-Cola, it’s us throwing away the packaging. I am the buyer, the thrower. We don’t have bad packaging; we have bad packaging handling. I can choose to drink tap water, buy packaged water, or use recyclable containers.

What are you currently doing on your European trip?

Katz: I’m visiting companies that use plastic for packaging and are willing to use social plastic. In Germany, I met with Henkel and Metro executives. In Italy, I was at Carton Pack, a large manufacturer of bottom fruit packaging for supermarkets. More and more manufacturers are joining in. So next year we will also be able to open new collection points, for example in Kenya and Tanzania. Thailand and Cameroon have also just joined as countries. We are growing.

You started as a start-up in 2013, but are now a global player, if you can put it that way. Have people changed their behavior?

Katz: I’m very optimistic, the younger generation is paying more attention to the environment. The climate-change movements show the changes. I can’t solve the problems alone, I am part of the solution and part of a new way of thinking. We have to stop Virgin Plastic; the goal should be to use only recycled material. For purely humanitarian reasons.