Plastic containers are ending up in landfills and oceans around the world as more and more countries stop accepting our recycled products. It adds up: the average American uses and throws away 110 pounds of single-use plastic each year, yet only 8% of plastic is recycled in the United States.
You might think that all those plastic clamshell containers we get from restaurants, food delivery services, and grocers are recyclable, but the reality is that not all recycling centers accept them.
Dispatch Goods co-founder and CEO Lindsey Hoell started the company in 2019 to build infrastructure that supports the daunting task of reclaiming plastic containers, freezer wraps and packaging. All of these items are brought back to the company’s facilities where they are washed, disinfected and resold for reuse. Even restaurant or food delivery customers can text the containers a number to schedule door-to-door collection from Dispatch Goods or drop their containers in a return bin.
Before starting the company, Hoell had a career in medicine, but dreamed of moving to California and becoming a surfer. She eventually moved to California, where she became aware of the plastic crisis. Hoell met his co-founder, Maia Tekle, through the Sustainable Ocean Alliance when she launched Dispatch Goods. At the time, Tekle was responsible for West Coast partnerships at Caviar.
“Recycling makes people think they’re doing something right, but when we dug deeper we found that we don’t always do well if there’s no demand in the aftermarket,” Hoell told TechCrunch. “The containers can only be recycled, but there is not a good infrastructure in place to collect the containers and process them.”
Dispatch Goods set out to build this infrastructure and now collects and processes between 10,000 and 15,000 food parcels per week. It already works with more than 50 customers, like DoorDash, Imperfect Foods and 50 restaurants in the Bay Area, including Bombera, which has replaced 4,000 containers since it started using Dispatch Goods over the summer. Hoell said.
After replacing some 250,000 single-use plastics, in total, at its customers in 2021, the company is today announcing $3.7 million in seed funding. The round was led by Congruent Ventures and included Bread and Butter Ventures, Precursor Ventures, Incite Ventures, MCJ and Berkeley SkyDeck. The latest investment gives Dispatch Goods just under $4.7 million in total funding, Hoell told TechCrunch.
Hoell and Tekle are experienced founders, even learning to drive trucks and forklifts, but their small team needed a boost, especially after seeing their monthly incomes jump from $700 last September to $20,000. in May.
They sought capital with the intention of expanding the team and outfitting their current facilities, including a microhub in San Francisco, to be able to handle the growth that was happening outside of that area and its new facility in Baltimore. .
“This use case didn’t exist before, so we’re making the most of it until we can strategize what a reuse facility would look like,” Hoell said. “We’re building that right now.”
They plan to invest the new funding in further geographic expansion, adding more restaurant partnerships and exploring new packaging opportunities. The company is also hiring three new people by the end of the year to join its current staff of nine.
Although Dispatch Goods primarily works with restaurant partners, it launched a consumer-facing pilot program last month. Hoell said there is interest on that side, but the company will stick to selling to businesses so the ultimate barrier to entry is low.
Hoell didn’t go into detail with the growth metrics, but said the company tracks how many items it collects and how many stops it makes. At launch, the company was collecting around four items per stop, and this grew to an average of 12 items, while the number of stops increased to around nine (from three).
Meanwhile, Hoell and Tekle are excited to welcome Christina O’Conor, Vice President of Congruent Ventures, as one of their newest board members.
“The zero waste movement is growing rapidly and we see circular packaging as an inevitable part of a sustainable future,” O’Conor said in a written statement. “Lindsey and Maia have demonstrated that they have the enthusiasm, the strategic ideas and the passion to create new systems to support an infrastructure designed to be reused. »
They also have some star power in their advisory team with actor Adrian Grenier, co-founder of DuContra Ventures. Grenier said what Dispatch Goods was doing “has been on my mind for a long time.” In fact, he’s so anti-plastic that he avoids take-out as much as he can and even brings his own reusable containers.
“We know how difficult it can be to reinvent the world,” he added. “Everyone is excited about the on-demand lifestyle that technology has given us, but at what cost? Dispatch Goods can save businesses the convenience and give them the ability to be able to afford this kind of business model shift .