Cleanhub was founded in 2020 by Bosse Rothe, Joel Tasche, and Florin Dinga. Schalk Kearney, CEO and co-founder of +earth interviewed Joel Tasche for the pilot episode of our founder feature interview series, Be Different.
How big is the problem of plastic pollution?
“If we look at the numbers today, the newest studies suggest that around 11 million metric tons of plastic waste enter the ocean every year, and this number is expected to triple by 2040,” an extremely alarming fact. In our interview with Joel Tasche, co-founder of Cleanhub, he points out something even more distressing… 80% of the plastic that ends up in our oceans is classified as non-recyclable.
“We’re working against an extremely strong narrative from the oil and gas industry who have basically been pushing the message for decades that plastic can be recycled. Plastic is a very, very complex problem.”
Complex indeed. And big. Very big. So big, in fact, that it has even managed to reach the deepest point on earth – the Mariana trench, some 11 000 meters below sea level, where plastic litter was discovered in the dark crescent-shaped dent of the pacific ocean floor. More plastic objects are produced today than ever before – around 500 million tons. None of this is really surprising if you think about the increase in prosperity around the world, as well as the increase in the human population. The fact remains: the more people consume, the more plastic is produced.
“When we hear plastic pollution, the first thing that comes to mind is let’s reduce our consumption, and let’s make more effort to recycle, but the problem we’re facing today is that the majority of plastic that goes onto our shelves is designed for a linear economy which means it cannot be recycled,” says Tasche.
Non-recyclable plastic waste is being shipped out of first-world countries to countries where there is no infrastructure in place to deal with it. Why? Because plastic holds no value. Once it has served its single purpose, it is worth nothing.
How is Cleanhub solving plastic pollution?
“We’re trying to build an economy where plastic is too valuable to waste. What that means is we are trying to give all plastic enough value that it is collected and subsequently treated correctly. That’s the only way we can really see the world getting a grip on plastic pollution because, in the end, you won’t throw away something valuable, right?”
Collectively founded by entrepreneurs Joel Tasche, Florin Dinga, and Bosse Rothe, with a unified goal to build digital solutions that can scale the collection of plastic before it enters our oceans, Cleanhub embraces an innovative approach to sustainability. The company is 100% committed to free the planet of plastic pollution and offers brands around the world environmental solutions to reduce their plastic footprint as much as possible.
“Consumers nowadays demand sustainable action from brands, they demand that brands do more than just profit.” Similarly, founders of new companies, particularly in the direct consumer space, are thinking the same way – they want to make as little harmful impact as possible with the businesses they start, not only from their own personal motivation, but also because they know the growing target audience, globally, cares about the planet.
“The brands are under pressure. They are lacking alternatives at the same time, consumers are pressuring them to take action, and we, in the end, offer a solution.”
How does Cleanhub work?
Cleanhub works directly with companies around the world that want to take accountability for their non-recyclable plastic waste. Once a company calculates its plastic emissions, Cleanhub is committed to recovering the equivalent amount of plastic from the environment in high-impact areas where there is no waste management infrastructure in place. “What we do is basically offer you the chance to take action and help set up the required structure to catch plastic before it goes to the ocean. Because that’s what we need to do,” says Joel. “We need to catch the plastic as close to the consumer before it leaks into the environment.”
These collection efforts not only directly prevent marine plastic pollution, they also significantly increase plastic recovery rates in critical regions of the world. Working in countries like Indonesia and India, Cleanhub is striving to empower communities to cope with their own waste, as well as creating incentives and fostering local entrepreneurship. “We started talking to the partners we are working with today and asked, ‘Would you collect non-recyclable plastic if we paid you?’ And they said, ‘Yes, sure. But what are you going to do with it?’”
After the plastic has been sorted into recyclable and non-recyclable, Cleanhub takes the plastic which cannot be reused to create new consumer products and supplies it directly to the cement industry where the plastic is co-processed – a simultaneous recycling of mineral materials and recovery of energy. “Because the non-recyclable plastic has calorific value, it replaces coal and gas in the process of cement manufacturing,” explains Joel. This process achieves a far superior environmental performance as compared to landfill and incineration and ensures that the plastic does not end up in the ocean.
Tracking, transparency, and trust
Acknowledging that one of the biggest resources required for Cleanhub’s continued growth in the industry is trust, the trio have adopted a big tech mindset into solving the issue. There is huge value in that. Throughout the three distinct operations of collection, sorting, and co-processing, all parties are connected by a uniquely designed software app which tracks the entire process, keeping account of the person, quantity, quality and location for all plastic recovered. This means full transparency in the data retrieved as evidence for the actual completion of all activities. As a company, consumer, and investor, this sort of transparency and trust is crucial. A solution you can trust with your own eyes.
The bottom line (however sombre it may seem) is that plastic is not going anywhere. Across the globe, it is a critical part of packaging and manufacturing, well, just about anything. From food and home goods, to toys and even furniture, people depend on plastic in many aspects of their day-to-day lives. Countless studies have revealed the staggering amount that enters the ocean each year, threatening the existence of life underwater – from small organisms and fish, to large mammals, amphibians and entire underwater eco-systems. Sadly, we can’t just automatically flick a switch to end the manufacturing of the material altogether, and even if we could, would we?
Not all plastic alternatives are better
“We shouldn’t be too quick to judge anyone who is using plastic in their packaging, because if you look at it from a lifestyle perspective, it can be the better material,” says Joel. “That being said, if you can refuse and replace plastic in your everyday life, I encourage you to do it.”
Right now, according to Cleanhub, building resilient plastic collection systems around the world is the fastest, most cost-effective, and sustainable solution for protecting our oceans. Innovation, after all, does not mean perfection. It means the next best alternative, to the next best alternative, and we believe Cleanhub are fast-tracking to changing the world for the better.