As far as business logic goes, it’s hard to argue with cheap and plentiful, but the impact of single-use plastic on our planet’s health is simply so disastrous, we have no choice but to look for alternatives.
Startups like Zero Wave are showing not only that single-use tableware need not be destructive to the environment, but also that the resources for its production could be both affordable and abundant.
Founded in 2019, Zero Wave utilizes used brewer’s malt to make single-use plates and comestibles. Brewer’s malt is a waste product that ends up in the dump in 95% of the cases, with Bulgaria alone producing over 240 tons of malt waste every day. The only costs associated with using malt — or brewer’s spent grain, as it is officially known — are for transportation, storage, and treatment, making it a more economically viable alternative to using paper, for example, whose price has been increasing steadily due to greater demand and higher production costs.
Crucially, Zero Wave’s plates are 100% biodegradable and compostable, and if you are still hungry after you’ve finished your meal, you can turn them into a snack. This way, you can have a hassle-free office or birthday party with a minimum impact on the environment. For food companies and their suppliers, the availability of affordable alternatives to single-use plastics is even more critical, allowing them to retain their business models while doing what’s right for the planet.
“Zero Wave is an excellent example of a circular business model, in which waste becomes a resource for the making of a product that reduces plastic use, one of the biggest polluters of the environment,” says Zero Wave founder Denimir Dimitrov.
In recognition of the deleterious effects of single-use plastics on the environment, the European Union banned plastic straws, bottles, coffee cups, throwaway containers, Q-tip sticks, and cutlery starting in 2021. This is also the year in which exciting alternatives like Zero Wave’s plates are coming to market.
Zero Wave founders Denimir and Blazhka Dimitrova aren’t new to sustainable development. The two met in 9Academy, an entrepreneurship program that emphasizes community building and social impact. In 2018, together with several other environmentally conscious young Bulgarians, Denimir and Blazhka founded the Zero Waste Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting a zero-waste lifestyle and the adoption of sustainable business practices. Over three years, they have held more than 120 talks, seminars, and trainings, for both children and adults, on the topics of responsible production and resource reuse.
Denimir has participated in a number of innovation and social entrepreneurship programs such as the innovation and entrepreneurship course at the Center for Applied Studies and Innovation (CASI) at Sofia University, the international social innovation program in Brussels and Turin, Open Living Lab Days in Thessaloniki, and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology’s Climate-KIC initiative.
Blazhka is the founder of the first zero-waste restaurant in Bulgaria: Blagichka Zero Waste.
They both believe that business should be at the forefront of driving meaningful change. “We will use our product to create a new way of thinking about and to promote sustainability through your consumption and buying behavior. With our NGO Zero Waste Bulgaria, we will continue to demonstrate to people how their business can be more impactful not only for them but also for society,” Denimir says.
The zero-waste philosophy espoused by Zero Wave is attracting a growing following. A few dozen individuals are volunteering their time to help the startup make its first steps, including senior managers and food technologists. The America for Bulgaria Foundation awarded Zero Wave a grant for the development of its product line as part of the Science with a Future RFP in 2020.
And while everyone is on vacation this summer, Zero Wave team members are hard at work doing investor pitches and preparing the launch of three products — 22 cm single-use plates, all-purpose flour, and crackers, all made from brewer’s spent grain.
(Here’s the scoop: brewer’s spent grain products are as good or better than other wheat flour alternatives.)
So, why not throw a responsible back-to-the-office or beginning-of-schoolyear party by purchasing Zero Wave’s zero-waste products?
Change starts one plate at a time. Purchase yours here.