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Creating a Social Enterprise

for the Circular Age

We can find inspiration just about anywhere by concentrating on our immediate surroundings and appreciating what is around us. For some it’s the sight of sunrays cutting through rainclouds, and for others it’s the sound and smell of ocean waves. For DreamZero inspiration took the form of a landscaped public space park littered with nothing but garbage. A lot of it.

Festivals and events are the wild west of waste generation. While receptacles are available for waste to be disposed of, volume and turnover of food and drink consumed by thousands of people in a confined space, creates used packaging that can be overwhelming.

Years ago, as I was leaving an outdoor festival, I was floored by the amount of waste that was tossed aside, says Ryan Dyment, co-founder of DreamZero. “There was so much litter you could barely even see the grass, and it was so disappointing.

Picking up every piece of garbage himself for recovery or disposal was unrealistic, and there had to be a way to be better. A way to encourage and incentivize people to take better care of our resources. The image of a polluted park lingered in the back of Ryan’s mind and it was a few years later when visiting Europe, that Ryan found inspiration from Swiss efficiency, and crystallized a model of resource efficiency he would eventually import to Canada.

I went to these overseas festivals and was amazed at how clean the grounds were, and never had to step over or on cups or plates at any time. All because these events instituted a deposit return system on food and drink packaging. Simple yet effective.

As a serial ecopreneur – he also co-founded the Toronto Tool Library –  Ryan took this concept upon his repatriation to Canada and teamed up to form a social enterprise to take action and provide reusable options for event-goers and consumers.
The initial model is simple: event organizers utilize DreamZero and order in bulk reusable cups that can be custom-branded or generic. When serving beverages event-goers are charged a nominal fee for every cup they take. At the end of the night event-goers can bring the cup home as a souvenir (and for further re-use) or return on the spot and get their deposit back. Cups are then washed and dried according to Toronto Public Health standards and used at another event. The cups are also recyclable and have been cleared to enter Toronto’s Blue Bin system. 

To me, fee for disposal is a no-brainer and right now it’s just way too cheap to throw things away. If we can level the playing field and offer better incentives to do the right thing with economic benefits – then the positive environmental and social outcomes naturally fall into place.”

While COVID-19 restrictions stopped live events – DreamZero’s initial target market –  throughout 2020 and 2021 it has offered an opportunity to pivot. DreamZero.ca now  includes a variety of reusable food packaging containers made from polypropylene – which is fully recyclable – that can be used up to 1,000 times for establishments to place food in for take-out. 

Unboxed Market in Toronto has signed up, and customers are asked to place a $5 deposit on meals that come in a reusable container, which is refunded when the container comes back. 

In February 2021 DreamZero became the Canadian agent for Muuse to replace disposables with reusables.

Consumers find a partner café on the Muuse app map, order a beverage and borrow the cup by scanning the QR code on the bottom of a stainless steel reusable cup at the café partner; enjoy the beverage; and return the item by scanning the QR code at the café partner or assigned return station. 

As a social enterprise in the circular age DreamZero leverages circular business models to encourage sustainability: Sharing Platform where collaboration is emphasized and the same resources are utilized by a variety of users to minimize waste; Resource Recovery by ensuring that all the materials are reusable and accepted in municipal recycling programs; and Product Life Extension by foregoing single-use all together and encouraging use of products that can be used again and again. 

I’ve worked in waste a long time and am passionate about the subject. I believe a lot of waste can be eliminated through good governance and strategic thinking, and the Circular Innovation Council is on the pulse of what’s happening. Through membership I’m hopeful we can connect with others and support similar initiatives to reduce our carbon footprints together.