The CEO of a Canadian plastic-for-currency enterprise met with a top Catholic official in Vatican City on Wednesday, where he pitched the Catholic Church on methods for reducing plastic waste in the ocean while helping the world’s poor.
Plastic Bank founder and CEO David Katz says the meeting was all about “planting a seed” with the Vatican, in hopes of developing a future partnership between his organization and the Roman Catholic Church.
“Today really was historic. I am confident that we changed the course of the planet,” Katz told CTVNews.ca from Rome.
Katz’s Plastic Bank is a social enterprise that treats plastic waste as currency at special convenience stores set up in impoverished countries. The Plastic Bank offers goods and services at above-market value in exchange for discarded plastic, then recycles that plastic and re-sells it to manufacturing companies for a profit.
Katz says the whole operation is designed to reduce the tremendous amount of environmentally harmful plastic waste that winds up in the world’s oceans, where it essentially lasts forever and kills billions of marine animals over the years.
He says it makes more sense to collect recyclable plastic before it winds up in the ocean, because “the last thing the world needs to do is clean the ocean.”
It’s also set up to specifically target areas of high poverty and plastic pollution, in an effort to generate both social and environmental benefit.
“We put the value of the material in the hands of the collector,” Katz said.
Katz met Wednesday with Cardinal Peter Turkson, the leader of the Vatican Dicastery on Integral Human Development. Katz said the cardinal was receptive to the idea of expanding the recycling program to churches across the planet.
The next step, Katz said, is reaching out to leaders within the Islamic community.
“I have not yet met a faith that does not exhibit a rudimentary, philosophical knowing that all people need to be in the service of the poor and the planet,” he said.
Wednesday’s meeting marks the high point of a whirlwind European tour for Katz, who was in Bonn, Germany last week for the United Nations’ COP23 summit on the environment. Katz was awarded with a UN Lighthouse Momentum for Change award at the conference.
Katz has spent the last few days since the conference in Vatican City, where he attended Sunday mass and met with the leaders of various orders ahead of his audience with the Pope. He says he spoke to the leaders of the Gregorian, Franciscan and Jesuit groups this week, and “moved them to tears” in describing the Plastic Bank’s work.
He added that he was shocked to see how wasteful Vatican City itself was. “The Vatican… is probably the least environmentally friendly place I’ve been to. It’s a disaster,” he said. “No one separates anything. There’s no recycling bins.”
Katz hailed Pope Francis for taking a more active stance on protecting the environment than his predecessors. “They’re showing up a little bit late, quite honestly,” he said.