From Plastics to Prospering Communities: An IMPACT! Story

This blog post was written by Andrew Almack, two time IMPACT! Sustainability Champions Training participant and Founder of Plastics for Change.


Our journey started with a trip to Cambodia, a country with heart-wrenching levels of poverty and plastic pollution. Municipalities in this region struggle to manage basic necessities, let alone implement proper waste management systems. Cambodia is not unique in this regard. In developing nations throughout the world, waste management systems cannot keep up with population growth, so plastics fall to the wayside and wind up in our oceans.

In these overpopulated regions, poverty is rampant and employment opportunities are low. Often the poorest members of the community take to collecting and selling discarded plastic to make a living. Despite difficult conditions and low pay, around 30 million people turn to waste picking to make a living. This work earns them less than $2 a day. Sometimes the exchange is so low, waste pickers round up the waste and burn it or dump it directly into the river. In most developing countries recycling rates are as low as 2% to 8%.

According to a recent paper in Science by Dr. Jenna Jambeck, this type of “mismanaged plastic waste” from South East Asian countries make up the vast majority of plastic entering our oceans.

But our team realized there was an elegant and simple solution: engage the brands that supply the plastic in these communities to contribute to a positive solution for its people and the environment. Increasing the monetary benefit for collecting discarded plastics is a proven strategy for increasing recycling rates. After three years of hard work to research and develop our process and mobile technology, we have created a system that can ensure waste-pickers within the community will receive a fair trade rate for their plastic.

Our process is similar to the way that fair trade agriculture helps increase how much farmers receive for their produce, but instead of supporting just food production, we help decrease the amount of plastic waste going into our oceans.

Attending the IMPACT! Sustainability Champions Training in Sudbury was a major boost to our project’s development. Not only was it inspiring to be surrounded by likeminded individuals who are passionate about sustainability, but the program provided access to a business coach who helped guide the development of our program.

We have developed and tested our mobile technology and our process. But now we need $10,000 to start implementing our fair trade recycling system.

We will be working with multiple communities in India to provide access to fair trade recycling. Overtime we will strive to improve and scale our platform and develop partnerships to help grow our model of fair trade recycling throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

We need your help.

With your contribution you can help liberate some of the most marginalized and impoverished members of society, increase plastic recycling rates, and reduce the amount of plastic waste ending up in the oceans. For more information about how you can support Plastics for Change click here.

Written by Andrew Almack

Stay tuned for more stories from our alumni and their exciting initiatives. For more sustainability resources follow IMPACT! on Twitter and Facebook.