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Realizing that the climate crisis is one of the greatest threats ever to our blue planet and all its inhabitants, the Theme for World Ocean Day 2024: Catalyzing Action for Our Ocean & Climate seem fitting to spotlight the importance of action. With sea levels rising, massive storms, and wildfires, it is clear that we need government and corporate leaders to take strong local, national, and international action – now.

We spoke with Oliver Kade, the Technical Director at Seven Clean Seas who shared his insights into the importance of leadership in ocean conservation.

What inspired you to start working in the field of ocean plastic removal?

Well actually this was a happy accident, I was actually working as a post-graduate researcher in Denmark and through my network Seven Clean Seas reached out to me to ask the question “how do you measure how much plastic an organisation uses”… After a period of researching potential methodologies, I released there was a knowledge gap in the market. This rest was history, I set my sites to answer this question.

Can you share any success stories or notable achievements from your time building Seven Clean Seas?

Seven Clean Seas has been a constant roller coaster of ups and downs, as is normal, joining an early-stage start-up and taking this through to an SME. A notable milestone along this journey has been working with the FIFA World Cup, where we developed the world’s first plastic footprint for a major sporting event. I have also worked with the plastic footprint network to lead an industry group in the generation of the first scoping system for plastic similar to scopes 1, 2 and 3 for carbon. All this work has led to numerous awards and accolades, including winning the UNWTO’s Start-up of the Year for SDG 14, Life below Water. However, the biggest accomplishment is that through all our hard work, we have now recovered over 3,000,000 Kg of plastic from the Marine environment.

In your opinion, what more can be done at a global level to combat the problem of ocean plastic pollution?

Often misunderstand plastic pollution. The reason plastic becomes waste and leaks into the environment is that the costs to collect this material are higher than the value of the material after it is recycled. Thus we need to re-balance the economics of alternative and recycled material. First, we need funding and blended finance for waste management to collect this material. It’s not so glamorous, but it is important. Secondly, we need agreements to increase taxes and costs on virgin plastic while subsiding on circular alternatives. This will incentivise more sustainable products and drive innovation in recycling and alternative materials.

As a leader in ocean conservation, what values or principles guide your approach to addressing the issue of plastic pollution?

It is so important to find truly sustainable solutions! This sounds silly, but you need to find solutions that hit all pillars of environmental, social, and economic sustainability. Plastic pollution is such a large issue that we must find sustainable financing solutions to scale impact. That means we shouldn’t neglect the importance of the economic aspect. Seven Clean Seas has collected 3,000,000 Kg of plastic. This is a drop in the ocean. The market that we are creating is scalable and has a sizable impact as a whole! That’s where the real change is happening.

How do you engage with local communities and stakeholders to understand their needs and preferences regarding employment opportunities related to ocean conservation and plastic removal?

Here comes the social aspect. As we grow and develop we must understand complexities and communities. Inherently, the plastic crisis is a social crisis at heart. 2 Billion people worldwide don’t have access to waste management and thus depend on informal workers who earn as little as $1 – $8 per day. We work on generating formal jobs for waste management in these communities and work with local government and community leaders to run the projects. We regularly run social impact questionnaires to understand how our employees and the surrounding communities can further benefit from the work we do. As we grow, so too does our community so does our commitment to improving living standards.

How do you balance the need for immediate action on plastic clean-up with the long-term goal of preventing further pollution?

This question is simple. You turn off the tap, and then you mop up the floor. We use a multi-faceted approach to stop plastic pollution. We install river barriers to prevent the flow of plastic into oceans and communities where we operate; we clean up the plastic that has already accumulated; and then we introduce household waste collection.

Looking ahead, what do you envision for the future of leadership in ocean conservation and plastic removal, and how do you plan to contribute to that vision?

This is a difficult question. The future is inherently uncertain, and our focus and mission is to recover over 10,000,000kg of plastic before 2025. That being said, the area of research that I am most interested in and that I believe will open a world of work around ocean conservation is the impact of this plastic on the ecosystems. We know that plastic impacts animal reproductive cycles, causing death through entanglement and ingestion and driving the transmission of water-borne disease, not to mention the recent research on nano-plastics which indicates that this is more prevalent than we initially thought. However, translating how the plastic footprint of an organisation or person relates to these impacts is a fascinating future development.

Oli Kade
Oliver Kade
Technical Director at Seven Clean Seas

Seven Clean Seas is an organization dedicated to removing plastic pollution from the oceans. They aim to extract 10 million kilograms of plastic by 2025. They create and operate projects to clean the oceans, generating formal jobs in the process. They also work with businesses to reduce plastic use and support ocean conservation efforts.