Bill Stark, President and COO of Cognition Foundry, spoke with deep honesty when he shared that Cognition Foundry’s collaboration with The Plastic Bank has gifted him with a sense of purpose.
Purpose, when recognized, harnessed, and provided a platform, achieves great things.
The Plastic Bank stops Ocean Plastic while reducing Poverty. The problems it proposes to solve, tangible and felt. Its mission, powerful and hopeful. As the Eight Secretary-General of the UN, Ban Ki-moon said, “Saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth…these are one and the same fight.”
The reason for being of the Plastic Bank resonates to all humanity, transcending vast differences between developed and developing nations. Its existence is driven by purpose. Its gift is purpose.
I dedicated 12 years of my life in community development work, 4 years in international aid during natural and man-made disasters, and the past 9 months with The Plastic Bank.
In less than one year, I have gained fresh perspectives on poverty and reduction and ocean plastic.
1 – Beneficiary targeting can be challenging in areas where poverty is extant and where there are competing social problems to be addressed. If, however, there is a purpose towards engaging a sector which is self-reliant amidst extreme poverty while at the same time preventing ocean plastic, working with the sector of informal collectors or segregators is the best way to go. However, instead of merely serving as stepping stones for the goals of those who purport to help the sector, programs can be intentionally designed towards meaningful empowerment. This requires time. This is fueled by compassion.
2 – Poverty reduction and Ocean Plastic can be uncomfortable and messy, literally and figuratively. While informal collectors are hardworking and intentional to put food on the table at the end of the day, the feeling of exclusion and deprivation is high. Community building requires wisdom and care. In areas where informal collection thrives, the lack and absence of sanitation and hygiene is just the tip of the iceberg. There are existing power dynamics within the solid waste management and recycling industry where a change in the status quo may not be preferable. Poverty reduction and battling ocean plastic requires in-depth analysis and a robust strategy.
3 – Plastic is not the enemy. Ignorance is. While there is a growing call to ban plastics altogether, advocates have only scratched the surface on the truth about plastic recycling. There is so much to learn and so much to unlearn. In spite of the lack of education and professional experience, collectors understand the dichotomy between plastic recyclables and residuals. I spoke to the River Warriors, those who scoop out plastics from the Pasig River in the Philippines, and they spoke passionately against Styrofoam and soft plastics like plastic bags. Styrofoam is lightweight and easily disintegrates into bits and pieces which are difficult to remove upon bodies of water. On the other hand, they also expressed appreciation over the rigid plastics, the recyclable plastics – their livelihood. Passion is not enough. Both knowledge and passion on plastic recycling is crucial if we want to solve poverty and ocean plastic.
4 – In the past 9 months, I have learned the power of images – that of oceans and marine life. The persuasive effect of photos of sea creatures succumbing to death due to plastic on the human mind is great. For decades, the state of informal collectors and solid waste management in countries like the Philippines have just been one of many pending issues. These days, solid waste management is thrusted into the limelight. Big brands are being engaged in campaigns. Concerned citizens ache with a sense of purpose. This window, of knowing and wanting to contribute to positive change, may be long but, it may also be short-lived. We need to be proactive. We need to be clear on what can be done and how it will be done.
5 – In the past 4 months, The Plastic Bank in the Philippines has worked with an association of informal waste segregators in Naga City, Camarines Sur. Since then, the association has transitioned from subsistence to enterprise, from the margins to the center, and from the grassroots to the platforms. Last December 21, the employees of the television station, ABS-CBN, honored the elderly collectors as well as the Collection Center Staff for their perseverance. Empowerment and inclusion – these are just some of the unintended consequences of fulfilling the Plastic Bank mission in the Philippines. When there is purpose, unintended consequences are life-changing.
Purpose is powerful. The Plastic Bank is an idea whose time has come.