Joel Tasche: building a scaleable solution to plastic waste

Joel Tasche, CEO and Co-Founder of CleanHub, joins Craig on the Founders For Good Podcast to talk about his mission to tackle plastic pollution.

The Founders For Good Podcast shines a spotlight on the people creating solutions to the world's biggest problems. In series one, Craig Turner and his guests have covered a range of topics, including plastic pollution, climate change, poverty, gender inequality, mental health and much more.

Joel Tasche, CEO and Co-Founder of CleanHub, joined Craig to talk about his mission to tackle plastic pollution. After seeing the impact of plastic waste first-hand whilst travelling, Joel wanted to create a scalable solution that would stop non-recyclable plastic entering the environment.

Keep reading to discover...

🤔 Why plastic pollution is such a huge problem  

♻️ How people have tried to solve it  

🌊 What CleanHub’s solution is to tackling plastic waste      

Why is plastic pollution such a huge problem?

Joel: In the UK, Germany, the US etc, we have waste services that come every week, or every second week. They wake me up on Mondays at six here in Berlin, which I’m very grateful for. They come to collect the waste and it’s not your problem anymore. But there are 2 billion people in the world that do not have that service. Nobody comes on a Monday or any other weekday to pick up their waste.  

People still consume, people still get packaging waste into their households - but nobody comes to pick it up. This is the core reason for plastic pollution. If nobody comes to pick it up, they're gonna dump it on the street. They're gonna dump it in the next river because you still want the plastic to be gone, or they're gonna burn it under the open sky.

Open burning is responsible for between 2 and 10% of global greenhouse gas and emission equivalence. You can't read about that in any of the climate change books. Nobody talks about that issue.

Obviously it’s a problem in itself that we don't know whether it's 2 or 10%, but society does not really care about waste management that much. It even shows in science, there's very little research going into that space.  

How have people tried to solve plastic pollution?

Joel: I think there are two directions of how you can go about this problem. It's often described as upstream solutions and downstream solutions.

Upstream solutions are better design, new packaging material - which is obviously something that is absolutely required.

Downstream solutions, like CleanHub, are about how to manage waste.

We are more in the space of how to manage waste because one does not go without the other. If you produce the best packaging material but do not have collection systems for the packaging that we produce (even if it’s compostable), the waste still needs to be collected. It needs to be brought to a facility where it can be processed, where it can be turned into compost or recycled. Or, responsibly disposed of - depending on the material.

With downstream solutions, where can you have the biggest impact?

Joel: If you set an incentive into the market, what do you want to incentivise? If I put more value on plastic that comes out of the ocean than plastic that comes out of the land - where's the economic incentive to not let plastic enter the ocean in the first place?

And this is why we say okay, in an ideal world, plastic never enters the environment in the first place. And we want to incentivise this ideal world. We want to catch plastic as early as possible before it can even do any harm to the environment. And this is why we try to go to the source as close as possible to avoid any sort of damage.

We say, go to the house. Get all the household waste. Make sure that it goes into a sorting facility where we can recover as much material as possible for recycling and whatever cannot be recycled, goes into energy production.

And the more households that have access to that kind of network, the better it is for the economy, for the business model - for everything, right? So if you get better quality waste, there is a higher chance it will be recycled, plus better working conditions. This is a system that can scale because it's not very difficult to collect waste from households.

So from our perspective, this is the only way we can get a handle on plastic pollution while actively driving the circular economy.  

What is CleanHub’s solution?

Joel: As I mentioned earlier, two billion people in the world do not have access to waste management systems, and that is mostly because waste management costs money.

At CleanHub, we believe that if brands are in a position where they can sell to people, they are also in a position where they can take responsibility for the waste that they produce - or this is how it should be.

We partner with waste management companies in South and Southeast Asia and give them contracts to collect waste from households and sort out the recyclables from the non-recyclables. Basically, do proper waste management and we are going to pay you for that.

And what we do on the other side is talk to brands in the US, UK and Germany, and tell them their consumers hate plastic packaging. Waste production is one of the biggest topics at the top of mind for consumers, even more so than climate change.

But at the same time, these brands can't really do anything about the packaging footprint per se. Especially in the food and beverage space, you need plastic as a packaging material for hygiene reasons, and there are no real alternatives on the market yet.

So we say, you're part of the problem. You can be part of the solution by paying for waste management in other parts of the world to avoid plastic from getting into the oceans. And we understand that it's probably going to be a bit difficult for them to trust an organisation that they don't know in India or Indonesia to actually do the work that they want them to do.

CleanHub’s technology delivers evidence that the work is being done right. So, every waste management company in India and Indonesia that’s part of our network uses our software to track and trace the entire waste collection process.

We have all the certificates and laboratory results so we can really prove both to consumers and to our customers that if they purchase 10 tons of plastic waste collection, we will do it. And if they collect the same amount of plastic that they put into the system, we certify them as plastic neutral.

In their first two years, CleanHub financed the collection of over 1 million kilograms of plastic waste that otherwise would've ended up in our oceans, our rivers, or just been burnt out in the street.

Want to learn more about Joel’s journey with CleanHub? Head to Founders For Good to listen to the full episode!  

Or, start your search for jobs tackling the climate crisis.