How Much Money Goes to (Food) Waste Daily? BioBin: An Application That Rewards Good Environmental Habits

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Recently, we met with Artem Myrhorodskiy, the creator of an application that teaches users how to sort food waste and compost it. Artem’s passion for ecology has even inspired our own team members to sort their food waste diligently and invest into bins for bio-waste. Such drive and personal impact is exactly what investors are looking for in startups, along with a purpose that can inspire the team to change consumer habits.

CEO - Artem Myrhorodskiy

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Funded by the Ukrainian Startup Fund

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Like most startup founders, Artem has a full-time job to support his hobby. To fund and develop his ecology project, Myrhorodskiy works for a Ukrainian IT product company. BioBin was a very unique idea, which Artem developed long before the startup was founded. Having deep knowledge of IT, he and his colleagues decided to make the world a better place by investing in themselves and their own habits.

At his country house, Artem has been composting organic products for over 10 years, mixing food waste with leaves and bio-waste from his garden. Myrhorodskiy says that the main problem with waste globally is the separation of bio-waste from recyclables. Organics prove to be a big issue, interfering with the sorting of metal, plastic, paper, and glass. Contamination with food or liquids negates all efforts and complicates sorting work. Approximately 40-50% of all waste is organic waste, that is, food residues: pruning vegetables, fruits and greens, spoiled foods, bones, withered flowers, and leaves.

“Last year, speaking with professionals engaged in this space, I realized that there is now a widespread problem of separating organic waste from recyclables. Specifically, not everyone has a separate container for both of them."

Artem Myrhorodskiy, Founder of BioBin.

Artem actively studied ecology statistics, and he realized that when organic matter is combined with non-organics, it becomes the main contributor to the greenhouse effect. When it arrives at a landfill, this waste proceeds to form methane, which in the warmer seasons can lead to fires and explosions. Given that there are unsorted chemicals, metals, and batteries present, this can be very dangerous to the environment. In Ukraine, there are 35,000 landfills, but only 6,000 of them are on legally permitted properties. The landfill in Pidhirtsi, near Kyiv, has been operating for 34 years and the mountain of waste there has grown to 120 meters. During the year, more than 450,000 tons of waste are brought in, polluting nearby air and water.

There is another problem in modern cities, which Artem has learned about after talking with consultants of the mayor of Kyiv. Every year, over 120,000 tons of leaves accumulate in city parks, and they are not allowed to be burnt or transported to landfills. As a result, these leaves are scattered in squares, or mixed into general garbage and then taken to landfills anyway.

BioBin pitch at the Ukrainian Startup Fund, 2020.

"After researching this issue extensively, we found that it would be ideal to mix green waste with food waste in a certain ratio. Thanks to biotechnology, in 2-12 months fertile humus emerges from such waste, and you can even sell it for good money" says Artem. “People also need a training tool that would explain to them that placing vegetables in the same container as plastic bottles directly leads to major problems with sorting at landfills.”

In the European Union, this issue is being solved at the state level, and learning from Germany, Artem and his colleagues found two models that could work for Ukraine:

  1. A municipal bio-waste tank in the yard, taken to the composting station twice a week, or
  2. Organic waste bins in consumers’ homes, and a shared composter in the yard.

How To Use BioBin

  1. Designate a bin for food waste in your kitchen.
  2. Install a composter in your yard or find an existing one.
  3. Enter the products you buy into the app.
  4. Fill up the designated bin with food waste and periodically take it to the composter, when the bin fills up.
  5. Follow the app’s instructions to reduce emissions and humus production, saving money along the way.

"We made a tool that creates new consumer habits. The application has gone through extensive testing and is already being used by over 1,000 people," says Artem. When using the app, there are 3 main sections: products, compost, and achievements, with an additional section for tips.  The “products” function was created to solve the problem of excessive wastage of food products - in the USA, 30% of food is thrown into the trash, in Ukraine it’s 12-14%. With data on average prices of products from Ukrainian supermarkets, the application calculates how much money users waste by throwing away food. This helps users be more conscious about their purchases, storage, and consumption of food products.

To join the waste recycling program while using the app, users need to own a compost bin and a street compost container. In the app, you enter the volume of your bin and how full it was (in percent) at the time of garbage disposal to calculate the mass of organic waste. For example, a bin of 6 liters that was about half-full would contain 2.4 - 2.5 kg of waste. The mass of the resulting fertilizer can be calculated as about a third of the mass of the waste, accounting for the loss of water. The app also calculates how much methane and carbon dioxide was prevented from entering the atmosphere thanks to your composting. A diverse selection of containers can now be bought online, with many new suppliers surfaced in the past decade. Artem says that in one year, his family produced about 140 kg of fertilizer and used it to grow trees in their community. 

How Much Money Goes to (Food) Waste?

The trend of waste-free food consumption has gained a lot of momentum in recent years. Every year, there are multiple conferences held covering the problem of excess consumption, with new institutions tackling the global issue.

"The plan for 2021 is to sign an agreement with the Kyiv City Administration and implement a successful composting system in the  Solomyansky district of Kyiv."

Artem Myrhorodskiy, Founder of BioBin.

According to the Ukrainian State Statistics Service, there are about 15 million families in Ukraine. On average, each family spends UAH 4,500 on food monthly. Assuming that a third of this food goes into the waste bin, due to unnecessary purchases,18 thousand UAH or about $650 USD is wasted annually by each family. What’s worse, because of lacking separation of bio-waste and recyclables, what has the potential to become a fertilizer becomes harmful waste. These stats show the importance of being honest with ourselves, and aligning our lifestyles and nutrition with our environmental goals. Scheduling purchases can also help us resolve this issue.

Achievements

BioBin’s team now has a coordinator, three developers, and two consultants. Sviatoslav Sviatnenko, who has worked with BioBin since the beginning of the project, helped the BioBin team to compete and win a $25,000 grant from the Ukrainian Startup Fund, and Svetlana Nemesh, an eco-activist, and Petro Panteleev, an adviser to Kyiv Mayor Klitschko on solid waste management, are also helping.

In 2020, the BioBin team tested the application in the courtyards of three Kyiv residential complexes – "City of Flowers", "Quartet" and "Comfort Town", where they installed four composters and invited residents to use them for disposing of organic waste. The feedback that BioBin received resulted in several adjustments. At the “Quartet” residencies the trial failed because the territory was fully paved and the composting containers could not be installed directly on the ground. In "Comfort Town", a unique situation developed - activists advocating for cleanliness resisted activists fighting for composting. Fortunately,  the experiment at the "City of Flowers" turned out in the best way possible, thanks to the head of the condominium Alina, who herself is an eco-activist and who promoted the composting concept among the residents of the condo building.

After testing, it also became clear that not all users like to manually enter the products they buy into the app. To simplify the user experience, BioBin began negotiations on the integration of sales receipts directly with Silpo, a large supermarket chain in Ukraine.

Pivoting and Adjusting the Roadmap: Focus on City Governments and Businesses

Globally, there are three large waste generation sources  - households, retail, and HoReCa (the hotel and catering industry). If one wanted to reduce organic waste, those three would be the primary targets for messaging and communications. Artem has already held three meetings with the Deputy Chairman of the Kyiv City Administration  Petro Panteleev. Emphasizing Panteleev's considerable awareness of this matter, Artem said that he had been offered to create a joint project with the Kyiv City Administration. As part of this project, the City would create a platform for composting in Kyiv. The city authorities have pre-selected a plot of 3 hectares next to the airport "Zhulyany" (on Medova Street), to be used for composting bio-waste of the Solomyansky district of Kyiv.

Artem Myrhorodskiy, Petro Panteleev (Advisor to Kyiv Mayor Klitschko), and Svetlana Nemesh (eco-activist).

The city also proposed to jointly develop a tool that will teach Kyiv residents to separate organic waste in their kitchens, along with helping the city motivate the community to compost. Unfortunately, today Kyiv does not yet have an incentive to sort waste. In large residential communities, for example, only 3-5% of residents sort their waste, but according to a survey, about 15% of citizens are ready to join the waste sorting movement.

Sorting sometimes seems like a difficult task, with lots of rules and inconvenient steps. Therefore, it would be smart to learn from other countries. However, even in Germany, where the population is more enthusiastic about the environment, the ratio of people ready for sorting peaked at 30% in the 2000s, and since then has plateaued. The people’s motivation for sorting went through phases, but what really helped solidify the practice were monetary incentives at the state level. For example, fines were introduced for throwing certain products into the general garbage.

Working with the Kyiv City Authorities, BioBin wants to monetize the participation in the composting program, for instance, by providing free parking or free public transportation. Kyiv residents, and hopefully, later on, all Ukrainians will be able to get a direct economic benefit from changing their habits and consumer behavior.

"Ecology alone does not motivate the majority of people, we need practical rewards to incentivise them to take action”

Artem Myrhorodskiy, Founder of BioBin.

For the City of Kyiv, this could become quite profitable: garbage trucks will no longer destroy the roads and pollute the air, and the cost of utilization of landfills will decrease, saving billions of hryvnas from the city budget. The city authorities want to deal with this  issue immediately, in order to leave a better environment for future generations.

After collecting initial application feedback, Artem's team decided to change their focus to sell to  city authorities and businesses and  converting their business model  to G2C and B2B. “It is easier to work with a city than with a country or an enterprise,” Myrhorodskiy shares, “offering a complete IT product, as they will happily support and scale it.”

Currently, the strategic goal of the team is to sign a contract with the Kyiv City Administration and implement a successful composting system in the Solomyansky district of Kyiv. According to Artem, the city has already bought one bio-disposal truck. In the near future, the City of Kyiv is planning to place containers near several dozen houses in a particular  neighborhood and launch a garbage collection route. The BioBin team is also working  on corporate orders and is looking for monetization opportunities in the corporate sector.

How Much Money Goes to (Food) Waste Daily? BioBin: An Application That Rewards Good Environmental Habits

Interview with the CEO of Ucluster Sergei Sokolenko.

  • Why sort garbage?
  • What is wrong with Ukrainian recycling legislation? 
  • Does Ukraine have adequate waste processing infrastructure?
  • How do I start sorting bio-waste? 

If you are interested in any of these topics,  you can listen to this podcast, featuring the head of the NGO "Ukraine Without Waste" Evgeniya Aratovska and the coordinator of the Lviv NGO "Green Box" Ilya Petryk.

Contact the Waste Management Center.

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