No Waste Ukraine, a non-profit that has advocated for waste sorting for more than six years, has announced a ‘reboot’.
The brand will no longer focus on social action but will position itself as an impact-driven business, or social entrepreneurship—meaning it sells goods or services and uses the proceeds to deal with a social problem and strengthen one’s social movement.
LIGA.net met with Yevheniia Aratovska, the founder of No Waste Ukraine, to discuss how the reboot will affect the organisation's social action and brand.
Why relaunch and why now?
When it was founded, No Waste Ukraine (Ukraina Bez Smittia, UBS) operated only thanks to charitable contributions and donations, and waste sorting services were free of charge.
In 2020, when the COVID pandemic led to severe lockdowns in Ukraine, the organisation found itself on the brink of survival as donations plummeted. That was when it launched UBS Courier, a paid service that offered collecting sorted waste directly from clients’ homes. It helped the organisation survive the lockdown.
In other words, UBS’s business vector started three years ago. And in order to make a point of it, the organisation decided to relaunch and not just rebrand itself. Unlike rebranding, relaunch is different in scale: It is a global change that will dramatically affect the perception of the company by consumers.
"This is a kind of initiation act for us. In fact, nothing has changed for us since we announced the relaunch. We have been doing this since 2020," Ms Aratovska tells LIGA.net.
"It's more like a ‘general clean’ in the minds of the audience to correct the misperception of UBS as a public organisation that ‘survives’ thanks to donations."
Sometimes, Ms Aratovska admits, even people around her are surprised to learn that UBS has a business aspect to its activities. Some believed that the organisation was only engaged in activism, organising charity runs and sorting waste.
"Then I realised that this was becoming a meaningful problem for our followers, clients, and partners, who may also not fully understand what No Waste Ukraine is about and how to cooperate with us, as business partners or as a non-governmental organisation?
"Today, we want to focus the attention of the public and partners on our role as social entrepreneurs," the UBS founder explains.
Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine was another important factor prompting the relaunch.
"We can't postpone our goals for the period of [Ukraine] reconstruction, until when victory comes and there is peaceful life; we don't know when that will happen," Ms Aratovska says. "We have set ourselves the goal of becoming financially independent now, so that we don’t get into a situation of uncertainty like we did during the lockdown."
She recalls that after 24 February 2022, when the full-scale invasion began, No Waste Ukraine ceased operations for three months, having to significantly cut corners to keep the project going. However, UBS decided to keep the staff, and instead agreed with each team member on terms that suited both parties.
Yevheniia Aratovska says that the idea for the relaunch came about while she was studying at the Impact Business accelerator, a joint project of Impact Force and Diia.Business that aims to help social entrepreneurs and socially important businesses grow during the war. Her mentor, Olha Danko, advised her to relaunch the brand.
"She was able to explain to me how to convey to the public that No Waste Ukraine is not only an NGO, but also a socially responsible business," Ms Atratovska stressed.
What will the No Waste Ukraine business model be like?
Ms Aratovska is quick to point out that not all of the services provided by No Waste Ukraine will be paid for. All customers will still be able to sort waste free of charge at the central UBS sorting station, near Demiivska metro station, and payment will be voluntary–except for the disposal of illiquid plastics (not suitable for recycling) and textile waste (old toys, shoes, clothes), which were paid for before.
In general, UBS will continue to develop all the business lines that were generating income before the restart, but will also launch several new ones. That is, in order to grow as a business, they decided to diversify their income by investing in different areas of activity to minimise risks.
The first such area for UBS will be the opening of its own space on the premises of the sorting station, which will include a shop and a coffee shop. The premises have already been renovated and launched in test mode, and the official opening is scheduled for September. The store will also operate online.
"It was an old warehouse with 50 square metres of space. We decided to renovate it and create a space where people could drink coffee and buy our products," Ms Aratovska explains. "Within two months of operating in test mode, our sales tripled. We expect a fivefold increase in the future."
The store has a dressing room to try on the goods or merchandise from UBS before buying. There are also a lot of goods from Ukrainian producers in the space, including eco-shoppers, eco-bags, pet cleaning bags, food, drinks, and treats.
"We look for goods from Ukrainian producers and sell them in a format where we keep 30 percent of the margin or even less. This way, both our partner and we make money," the UBS founder explains.
Soon, No Waste Ukraine plans to install a coffee machine and hire a barista, to make not only classic coffee drinks but also filter coffee to "promote quality coffee among workers in the industrial zone."
No Waste Ukraine also plans to launch selling eco-friendly notebooks, with the cover made from recycled plastic and the sheets, from recycled fallen leaves. Those started to be produced last September, and are already available in the UBS online store. Even the Swedish eco-activist Greta Thunberg has one of the notebooks.
Another field where No Waste Ukraine will be developing commercially is the sorting capsule, opened in May. The capsule is a mini-sorting station based on a sea freight container located in Kyiv. Access to the capsule is provided on a paid basis: To use it, one needs to pay a club fee.
"The capsule is cool because the user has individual access via smartphone and can enter it whenever they want. There are 25 containers there, no consultants, but there are a lot of tips, [and] QR codes with sorting rules," Yevheniia Aratovska says.
"The capsule covers 70 percent of the sorting needs, the rest can be sorted free of charge at the main station or you can pay for the sorting service in the capsule itself."
The own shop, the sorting capsule, and the sale of goods will be the ways in which No Waste Ukraine will now earn money, Ms Aratovska sums up.
In addition, the Plastic by Mail service will remain in place, allowing the client to send a parcel of plastic from anywhere in Ukraine, via Ukrposhta or Nova Poshta, to a UBS station for sorting or recycling. Another paid service is UBS Courier, where sorted waste is collected from home by couriers.
How is No Waste Ukraine planning to scale?
Yevheniia Aratovska reveals that No Waste Ukraine is readying to launch a franchise.
"We've already started taking the first steps to describe the business model, how our sorting capsules work, and offer small and medium-sized businesses to open such spaces in their cities: Lviv, Dnipro, Kharkiv, Odesa—anywhere," she explains.
The scaling project is, the businesswoman says, a ‘social franchise’, and the UBS team is currently working on developing a marketing strategy to help partners who will cooperate with the organisation find customers and make money.
The business model for the capsules is being developed together with Myroslava Kozachuk, a Franchise Group partner and project founder.
"We want to scale our idea and to help our partners do a useful job and earn transparently by providing a guarantee to consumers, providing customers with a quality sorting experience," Ms Aratovska stressed.
No Waste Ukraine also intends to engage in education. The plans include the development of ‘board games’ and even casual PC games that will teach how to sort waste, as well as tutorials and educational materials on waste sorting.
"We will promote the cultural and educational areas through our non-profit, which will continue to attract grants from partners who want to invest in the wellness area. In other words, the non-profit will work as part of our ecosystem," the UBS founder says, adding that the brand also includes KnowWaste Ukraine LLC, which is registered for all business activities.
No Waste Ukraine also plans to cooperate with the community of urbanists and urban activists, whom it sees as a ‘strong value partner’, in order to "improve the city's garbage infrastructure and remove this practice of using untidy Soviet containers".
"I would like to add dignity to the city's waste infrastructure," Ms Aratovska says.
Is it realistic to start sorting waste throughout Ukraine?
Separate waste collection was supposed to start in Ukraine as early as 2018. However, due to the lack of appropriate infrastructure and a mechanism to monitor compliance with the relevant law, landfills continue to be filled with tonnes of waste.
On average, Ukrainians throw away more than 13 tonnes of waste every year, which is about 300 kilograms per person, but only six percent of it is sorted—the rest is taken to landfills. At the same time, most European countries sort about 40 percent of all waste produced in a year on average.
In line with European integration, Ukraine last June adopted a framework law on waste management, which, among other things, provides for European principles of waste management and the closure of all landfills. As a ‘framework’ law, it does not yet oblige Ukrainians to do anything, but only sets out the basic rules for the ‘waste’ reform.
Nevertheless, Ms Aratovska criticised the law because of amendments that effectively ‘legalised landfills’ and made it difficult to introduce waste sorting.
However, when asked whether it is realistic to introduce separate waste collection in Ukraine in the near future, she was positive.
"The short answer is, I personally believe in it. The good news is that Ukraine has become a candidate for EU membership, and we will be working with European experts who are familiar with the implementation of directives, which will be another powerful factor in supporting civil society.
"The law can be amended and revised. And in order for us to get closer to systematic separate collection, it is necessary to initiate these changes. I am convinced that in the status of a [EU] candidate, it will be much easier for us to make these changes."