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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Startups aimed at reducing household waste have previously lacked the kind of mass consumer backing and potential for scale that investors like to see. That’s changing now.

Why it matters: Consumers produce waste — plastics, packaging and food — at nearly every moment of the day, from the bag that holds new bed sheets to the sugar packets with a dinner espresso.

Most plastics, produced from fossil fuels, aren’t recycled and don’t decompose. Organic waste in landfills releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas that warms the atmosphere more than 80 times as much as carbon dioxide.

The big picture: The pandemic has led to more household trash, but also more consumer awareness of their contributions to the world's trash problem.

  • Startups like Zero Grocery and Blueland, which provide food and home goods in returnable or reusable containers, have benefited.
  • Zero Grocery’s 2020 revenue (from the start of February to the end of December) grew 3,400%, according to founder and CEO Zuleyka Strasner.
  • Blueland sales increased 800% last year, Business Insider reported.

Yes, but: Plastics and waste solutions need scale to attract investors and achieve real environmental impact, Chuck Templeton, managing director at S2G Ventures, tells Axios.

  • "You look at packaging companies — they’ve been successful over time because they’ve been able to get to scale with [plastics]," he said.
  • The other "part of it is going to be legislation," like cities banning plastic bags, and "pure economic pressure from consumers," says Ramy Adeeb, founder and general partner at 1984 Ventures, which led Zero's pre-seed round.

That public pressure is here. The current "cultural zeitgeist doesn’t want plastic," Ecovative CEO and co-founder Eben Bayer tells Axios.

  • Ecovative, fresh off of $70 million in funding, has been profitable in manufacturing products made from mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms. It licenses its technology to, or partners with, companies that want sustainable whole-cut proteins, home compostable packaging and even leather-like materials. 
  • Ecovative’s open model means it can distribute its manufacturing platform widely, achieving the kind of scale that would make it the “equivalent of a Dow [or] DuPont of mycelium,” Bayer says.

Businesses that shift their operations are benefiting too, as Too Good To Go's model is starting to show.

  • With $31 million in new funding, 42.6 million users and more than 100,000 partner stores globally, the startup enables businesses to sell food to consumers that would otherwise be thrown away at the end of a day. 
  • "U.S. adoption has been the fastest," Lucie Basch, Too Good To Go co-founder and chief expansion officer, tells Axios. And the number of VCs that have reached out to the company in the past couple of years has been "quite impressive,” she adds.

Venture capitalists will remain interested if they can see a path to building a large public company around “waste plays,” Farther Farms co-founder and CEO Mike Annunziata tells Axios. 

  • The Rochester, New York-based startup, which has raised over $10 million in private capital, develops technologies to maintain the shelf life of food, like a bag of fast-food french fries for 90 days without freezing. It's now trying to apply those technologies to more products.

What to watch: “What may start as solving a waste problem can be a way to start something even bigger,” he adds, pointing to shelf-life preserver company Hazel Technologies and “ugly produce” shippers Imperfect Foods and Misfits Market as examples.

Go deeper

Sep 22, 2021 - Axios Twin Cities

Bag fee returns for Minneapolis shoppers in October

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Time to wash that tote. Minneapolis' 5-cent fee for single-use shopping and carryout bags is back in effect, beginning Oct. 1.

State of play: A city ordinance requiring that grocery stores and other retailers charge customers who don't bring their own bags took effect in January 2020, but the city delayed enforcement until now due to the pandemic.

  • The rule includes a number of exemptions, including items in produce and flower bags, farmers' market vendors, and customers who receive benefits from federal and state food assistance programs.

The big picture: A growing number of cities and states have adopted policies aimed at reducing use of single-use plastics in recent years.

  • But concerns about germs during the pandemic slowed or paused implementation of many bans and fees across the nation.

Zoom in: Minneapolis and Duluth were the major Minnesota cities with fees on the books as of 2020.

  • Efforts to enact a statewide fee have failed to muster support in the Legislature. DFL lawmakers supporting that proposal expect to introduce it again next year, a spokesperson told Axios.

The other side: Grocers and other retailers have opposed the local fee push, citing concerns about enforcement and effects on businesses if shoppers head to other cities without them, like St. Paul.

The bottom line: Want to avoid paying up? Bring your own bag.

Hollywood union reaches deal with studios to avert strike

Photo: AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

A Hollywood workers' union reached a tentative deal with studios, networks and streamers that will guarantee better working conditions, meal breaks and increased wages for low-paid workers, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) announced Saturday night.

Why it matters: The deal, which still needs to be ratified by IATSE members, will avert a nationwide strike by film and television workers that was set to start Monday. It would have been the first strike in the union's 128-year history.

Bill Clinton released from hospital following treatment for non-COVID infection

Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former President Bill Clinton was discharged from the University of California, Irvine Medical Center on Sunday, nearly a week after he was admitted for a non-COVID-related infection, according to his spokesperson Angel Ureña.

What they're saying: "His fever and white blood cell count are normalized and he will return home to New York to finish his course of antibiotics," wrote Dr. Alpesh Amin, who has been overseeing the team of doctors treating Clinton. "On behalf of everyone at UC Irvine Medical Center, we were honored to have treated him and will continue to monitor his progress."

Worth noting: Clinton had a urinary tract infection that spread to his bloodstream, per CNN.

  • The California-based medical team had been administering IV antibiotics and fluids, and was in constant communication with Clinton's New York team, including his cardiologist, according to the former president's physicians.
  • President Biden spoke by phone with Clinton on Friday to see how he was doing, and the catch-up included a discussion of recent politics.