StageIncubator/Accelerator | Alive
ShareWares sanitizes, supplies, and tracks reusable cups and food containers. It enables technology as well as the supporting city infrastructure to allow reusable cups and food containers to be bought, returned, tracked, and processed for resale. The company was founded in 2020 and is based in Vancouver, Canada.
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Latest ShareWares News
May 10, 2023
In the second of a three-part series on circular economy technologies, two startups demonstrate how to defeat single-use packaging, one business at a time. www.vantechjournal.com Notes Vancouver's zero-waste packaging tech companies build circular economies, one container at a time. Left, packaging from Reusables.com; right, a drink cup from ShareWares. Photos: Reusables.com and ShareWares. Breaking news: your coffee cups almost always end up in the garbage, your takeout containers don’t often get recycled, and Vancouver’s landfill is nearing its capacity. While the city prides itself on compartmentalized waste bins and motions toward a zero-waste region, there may perhaps be no greater fallacy than that of single-use packaging — even if it's labelled as recyclable or compostable — because almost everything ends up in the landfill. The solutions exist to get less trash to the dump, say the founders of zero-waste packaging startups Reusables.com and ShareWares . It’s just a matter of connecting the dots to get rid of it. Here’s how the two competitors are doing it. A pandemic pivot When COVID-19 struck, Cody Irwin was looking to pivot his business to survive the pandemic. He ran Natural Source, a corporate food service company that supported tech offices by managing their kitchen services — think snacks, coffee, and tea. But when offices closed, sales dropped overnight by 98 percent. “We were in the process of transitioning offices over into zero waste with bulk dispensing systems,” said Irwin. “We were doing all these fun things on tap to get the waste out of offices. And then the whole world went back to wasting when COVID hit.” Thanks to government wage and rent subsidies, Irwin went on to start ShareWares, a B2B reusable packaging platform, for businesses to adopt zero-waste containers. At the same time, Anastasia Kiku was wrapping up an internship to implement circular economy practices for local companies Spud and FoodX, alongside Jason Hawkins, who was the director of business development at the latter. As COVID-19 cases intensified in the city, they saw plenty of peers support local restaurants through takeout food, but also noticed that the recycling bins began to pile up. “We learned that only about nine percent of those containers are actually recycled,” said Kiku. “The majority of it, unfortunately, goes to the landfill for various reasons, or even goes to waterways.” The Reusables.com co-founders — Jason Hawkins and Anastasia Kiku. Photo: Reusables.com. That was enough to propel Kiku and Hawkins to co-found Reusables.com, a zero-waste packaging platform where members can earn rewards upon using and returning reusable containers. Subscribe Prioritizing convenience The two ventures have made an effort to maximize convenience for both businesses and consumers — to make the process as easy as getting single-use coffee cups or takeout containers. “We sell cups, takeout containers, and grocery containers to businesses,” said Irwin. “Our systems are plug and play [...] [Businesses] get the products just like [how they get] single-use products.” A ShareWares reusable cup and QR code. Photo: ShareWares Customers can opt for reusable packaging via a $1.50 deposit at the checkout of businesses partnered with ShareWares. Each container has a QR code that the customer can scan to find nearby dropoff locations, such as return bins or home pickup partners. Because each QR code is unique, ShareWares can refund the deposit back to the user via e-transfer. By contrast, Reusables.com offers a membership-based system. Registered members get unlimited zero-waste packaging across the company’s suite of partners, with 14 days to return the containers at participating locations. Members can earn rewards upon return of the items. “We supply restaurants with an inventory of reusable containers that their customers can opt into,” said Kiku. “A big value proposition there is the functionality of our containers. [...] After a guest has eaten out of a reusable container compared to single use, the experience is so much more superior.” The suite of zero-waste packaging offered by Reusables.com. Photo: Reusables.com A key difference between the two companies is in the percentage of reusable containers given back, also known as the return rate. This statistic helps to calculate how many cycles of use the container has to go through before it justifies the materials used to produce it from an environmental impact perspective, compared to single-use containers. “The return rate has to be at least 93 to 95 percent, depending on the material, to break even,” said Kiku. Reusables.com currently sees 98.5 percent for these consumer-facing products. Irwin argues that while return rates are important for assessing sustainability, a high return rate is more valuable at scale. He estimates ShareWares return rates are at 60 to 70 percent. “It's [more about] figuring out how to make the whole system work, and having a system that actually could get to a 98 percent [return rate] of 100 percent of the population,” said Irwin. Linking the physical to the digital Part of figuring out how to make the whole system work is cleaning. When containers are returned, they need to be picked up, washed, and returned to partner businesses. There isn’t a big enough dishwashing facility to do so at large volumes, Irwin said. “We just got a big grant to build out our washing facility because there isn't really a washing facility that can wash the city's dishes at scale,” said Irwin. “You need to be washing millions of units a day.” Subscribe Kiku at Reusables.com on the other hand, approaches the problem differently. She doesn’t think the problem is a lack of dishwashers, but rather that many of the machines are sitting idle or unconnected. “What we see ourselves as is building the platform where different partners and different providers can plug in,” said Kiku. “So for example, there can be tens, if not hundreds, of cleaning partners. And obviously, there's going to be some kind of verification process in terms of ensuring that the partners are performing the function to standard.” Customers pose with drinks out of ShareWare cups at the Vancouver Mural Festival's Summer Festival street party. Photo: Cindy Lee Competition is good Both companies are building out independent processes and platforms for zero-waste packaging. But the two startups argue that competition is good for everyone, because it demonstrates to investors that there’s a viable market to invest in. Subscribe At a local level, ShareWares has partnered with Tim Hortons franchisees and Skip the Dishes, while Reusables.com partners include JJ Bean and “some pretty exciting partnerships with third-party food delivery companies” soon to come, said Kiku. The two startups also operate at enterprise-level markets, such as film production studios, events, and university campuses. Irwin defines the relationship with Reusables.com as “co-opetition”. The more visibility Reusables gets, the better it is for the industry as a whole, he added. “We're servicing different enough customers within some of the same segments where it makes sense,” said Kiku. “ShareWares is really focusing on the washing infrastructure and infrastructure in general. We’d like to see players like them potentially being able to work with [us] in the future, and be part of the same platform as well.” Getting government support Universal to the two experiences is the role of government funding. While Irwin liquidated his former company, pandemic-era rent and wage subsidies helped the transition to ShareWares. But beyond the adaptation dollars, local, provincial, and federal funding is supportive of circular economy technologies such as Reusables.com and ShareWares. “We've got just under a million from the CleanBC Plastics Action Fund that was announced a couple weeks ago, as well as funding from Sustainable Development Technology Canada,” said Kiku. Irwin estimates that they’ve received over a million dollars in non-dilutive funding at this point — and counting — too. Zero-waste packaging companies usually aren’t profitable, including Reusables.com and Sharewares. But profitability isn’t a priority for both founders. What matters more is being able to transform the city’s businesses and behaviours, one zero-waste container at a time. We stay atop of the city’s tech trends so you don’t have to. Subscribe, or better yet, become a member: Subscribe
ShareWares Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
When was ShareWares founded?
ShareWares was founded in 2020.
Where is ShareWares's headquarters?
ShareWares's headquarters is located at 69 West 3rd Avenue, Vancouver.
What is ShareWares's latest funding round?
ShareWares's latest funding round is Incubator/Accelerator.
Who are the investors of ShareWares?
Investors of ShareWares include Google for Startups Accelerator: Canada and Foresight Clean Accelerator Centre.
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