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The circular economy goes beyond how we use plastic

Written by Robert Cobbold, entrepreneur, philosopher and Chief Operating Officer of Climate Tech Platform, Beach Collective

One of the most important and least understood causes of the climate and biodiversity crisis is our debt and interest-based monetary system. When every pound and dollar in circulation is tied to a debt, and that debt is continually growing with interest, it necessitates a cancerous growth imperative and an endless treadmill of consumption where the biosphere becomes a collateral “externality”.

This problem is largely hidden from view. When people see a beach full of plastic it appears obvious what the problem is - we’re using too much plastic and we’re not reusing or recycling it properly. But they don’t tend to see the generator function - we’re using too much plastic (not to mention fossil fuels, timber, palm oil, rare earths… and everything else) because the economy has to grow in order to avoid a debt collapse. It’s like speaking to someone with a large mortgage on their home and telling them they have to slow down and work less - in a debt and interest-based money system, producing and consuming less is simply not an option.

Nature moves in cycles - it’s not an escalator with no end. If we are to create a civilisation that is in harmony with the natural world then we will have to design a monetary system that moves to the same beat.

The Beach Collective has responded to this challenge by launching a currency called $BEACH. $BEACH is designed to tackle both the systemic causes of the climate and biodiversity crises (the flaws within our monetary system) as well as address some of its direct symptoms, such as marine debris and coastal ecosystem destruction.

Firstly, $BEACH has lower emissions and reduced fees in comparison to traditional financial giants like Visa or Mastercard, and it uses those fees to protect and restore our oceans. As opposed to mainstream economic activity where harm is “externalised” to the natural world in the form of greenhouse gas emissions and plastic waste, $BEACH internalises the health of oceans into every transaction, by diverting fees to Clean Oceans and Blue Carbon initiatives every time you use it to make a payment.

$BEACH is not based on conventional debt-based and interest-driven financial models. Instead, $BEACH is a currency that is spent into the real economy as a reward for direct climate action. This approach eliminates the need for money-on-money returns and the associated growth imperative.

$BEACH, which has been in operation for two years, has made a significant impact by supporting environmental and humanitarian issues around the world. This includes funding beach cleans in over 25 countries and clearing more than 200,000 kgs of trash from the oceans, restoring mangroves in three countries, funding disaster recovery efforts in Tonga following the recent tsunami, sea turtle conservation in Papua New Guinea and guerrilla gardening in Lebanon. But this next phase in the development of $BEACH is by far the most exciting.

Thanks to support from the Sustainable Ocean Alliance, for the past few months we have been quietly piloting $BEACH as a real-world currency in conjunction with a mangrove restoration project in Cebu, Philippines. We are currently halfway through the pilot phase, and we have successfully restored half a hectare of mangroves, cleared hundreds of kilograms of trash from the coastlines, supported four local businesses and created one full-time job. We are actively working to include more businesses in the initiative.

Barbz and the beach clean team in Cebu, Phillipines

Keith Santiago, one of the members of the Cebu mangrove restoration team explains:

“In my experience, conducting the $BEACH pilot has been fantastic. I can easily claim our salary after cleaning using the account we have in Beach Pay, and we can effortlessly purchase goods at stores that are integrated with the $BEACH pilot. The transactions are very smooth. I am hoping that more establishments will join the pilot.”

It works like this. Every couple of weeks our local team leader Barbz (pictured above) organises an activity with her 24 team members to restore local mangroves. This could involve attending a training session, planting seedlings or clearing plastic waste and debris from the mangroves or nearby beaches. All the participants are rewarded for their time and effort with $BEACH at a rate that is comfortably above the local wage.

They then take their $BEACH and spend it in one of four local businesses that have agreed to accept $BEACH as payment. The currency circulates freely in the community, but we will always buy $BEACH back from one of these businesses if needed, as a last resort. Every transaction is processed using our payment app Beach Pay and for every transaction, a small 1.5% fee is applied and split evenly between our Clean Oceans fund, our Blue Carbon fund and the Beach Collective. This means instead of money leaking out of the community in the form of card fees, bank charges or foreign transaction fees we can keep the money in the community and use it to pay for further environmental initiatives.

Buying groceries with $BEACH pay

This is one way to understand what a circular economy truly means. People talk about a circular economy in terms of materials - using waste to build new products. But if the circular economy for materials is still based on a means of exchange which demands endless growth, and which extracts money out of communities in the form of bank charges and card fees - how circular can it truly be?

Circularity of materials is core to Beach Collective’s model. We collect and recycle plastic from the beach, and provide a marketplace for sustainable brands and products like GNGR Bees who make activewear out of discarded fabrics, or EFFKT Footwear who make trainers out of ocean trash. We’ve also built a shop out of recycled plastic in Kakuma Refugee Camp and our partner Togbe in Ghana has been making rain ponchos out of discarded drinking water sachets.

But our vision is also to help bring about a world where money itself operates on principles of circularity, rather than the linear growth model of our national currencies.

The true potential of $BEACH is to show the world that money is not a dictatorship but a democracy. To demonstrate that communities have the power to create their own currencies which serve their needs rather than the needs of commercial banks and financial institutions.

If we can do that, we will create a tidal wave of change which will change the sustainability game forever.


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