How blockchain can help remove plastics waste, and help the poor at the same time

How blockchain can help remove plastics waste, and help the poor at the same time

David Katz is on a mission to democratize material handling and waste management. Since co-founding The Plastic Bank in 2013 in Vancouver, he has been hard at work creating an ecosystem that attaches a value to plastics that make their way into the oceans and rivers around the world.

The key to helping him realize that vision is blockchain, a technology that is often misunderstood by the layperson. Many confuse it with cryptocurrency or assume blockchain opportunities are mainly targeted to the financial services and cybersecurity sectors. But the possibilities for application developers are much more diverse.

The power of blockchain is that it provides a single shared source of the truth that is immutable and can be shared. This offers the ability to validate and authenticate transactions within seconds versus days or weeks, whether it’s tracking the distribution of goods from source to consumption, sharing medical histories or pinpointing the exact source of a food product, explains Manav Gupta, director and distinguished engineer, Cloud Native Competency at IBM Canada in Toronto.

Blockchain can achieve a variety of things for developers and end users. It can be used to create a large business network tying people and entities, provide the ability for parties to digitize and trade assets, and/or provide a single shared ledger on a distributed platform that can cross markets and sectors.

In Katz’ case, blockchain is serving as a platform for the use and exchange of waste materials, which will put value into the hands of the poor. While he prefers not to use the term “the Uber of recycling,” he admits it’s a good analogy. “A driver has their own car and expenses. But the more they want to work, the more money they can make.”

Through The Plastic Bank, individuals or groups in poverty-stricken parts of the world are able to collect plastic waste and exchange it for tokens or credits that can be deposited in an online account. The tokens can then be applied toward goods and services they typically can’t afford, such as education, Wi-Fi services or medical insurance, among others.

Katz says blockchain is propelling these types of initiatives in a number of social applications. “The ability to share authentic data is critically important, especially when working in areas that suffer from poverty and corruption. We know who is collecting materials and where – all questions that couldn’t be answered before. It speeds up everything.”

He joins a growing group of entrepreneurs exploring the value of blockchain for social good, from recyclables and charitable donations, to distribution within refugee camps and clean energy management, says Mark Kovarski, a Toronto-based technology consultant and partner at 85 Advisors in New York, an accelerator focused on blockchain innovation.

“If you look at the startup space from a cleantech and envirotech perspective, the growth has been phenomenal. There are now over 130 startups globally, and over $300 million being invested in startups using blockchain with an environmental focus. It’s a huge growth market right now.”

Key areas of development include energy efficiency, recycling using tokenized rewards system, end-to-end supply chain transparency, carbon footprint reporting and non-profit contributions.

Blockchain has great potential to lead the way to a more energy efficient, lower cost-of-energy world, while helping achieve global greenhouse gas emission targets

Paul Ghezzi, CEO, Kontrol Energy Corp.

Kovarski stresses that for startups, it’s all about the application layer and there are numerous platforms available to developers for little to no cost. These include IBM Blockchain, Ethereum, IOTA, NEO, EOS and Ripple. “These platforms are like the glue for building distributed apps.”

Paul Ghezzi, CEO at Kontrol Energy Corp. in Vaughan, Ont., a developer of energy efficiency solutions and technology, says his company has a number of accelerator initiatives within the blockchain sector that are using the various platforms. He says as an energy services provider, the focus is on creating the applications that reside on them.

“In terms of energy savings, blockchain has great potential to lead the way to a more energy efficient, lower cost-of-energy world, while at the same time helping to achieve global greenhouse gas emission targets,” he explains. “For each $1 of energy saved, up to $3 of utility transmission and distribution investment can be mitigated. The return potential to save $1 dollar of energy is higher than having to build a new energy infrastructure.”

The areas that show the greatest upside within energy include, peer to peer trading of energy networks; carbon reduction monitoring, recording and monetization; and infrastructure planning and management, he adds.

Gupta says there are countless opportunities that developers can explore that will contribute to improving society, from securing food supply chains to improving energy efficiency. “Ultimately, if a solution makes it easier and better to reconcile information in a trustable manner – that’s a social good right there.”

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