We know that, just like us, there are hundreds of other projects wanting to do more for the planet. We went to find out more about what drives them and what we can expect from their project. Once a week, one startup, one interview, five questions.
We met Carolina Sapienza- Bianchi founder of MudaTuga, a startup that offers home and community composting solutions and awareness services for bio-waste management. Basically, and as they promise, this company turns ordinary people into composting ninjas.
MudaTuga provides compost bins, worms, e-books and everything you need to make compost in your home or neighborhood.
What problem is your startup solving?
Mudatuga wants to solve the bio-waste problem – which is not really a problem at all, it is an opportunity for us to do better and reuse our waste and close the nutrient loop. In Portugal almost 60% of the urban solid waste still ends up in landfills, and unfortunately we are still far from changing this reality. The environmental impact is enormous, because landfills emit greenhouse gases, in addition to rendering large portions of territory unusable (there are 33 active landfills in Portugal at the moment) and the social impact they generate – families living near landfills face visual pollution and devaluation of their land and homes. It is a rather unpleasant situation. An aggravating factor is that Portugal is one of the countries that charges the least per ton of solid waste deposited in landfills (about 22€/ton), and we receive containers of waste “imported” from other countries to deposit here.
Mudatuga not only wants to offer more sustainable products for home composting (our famous Compostuga®, the first version of which will already be available this summer for purchase), but also wants to turn “ordinary people” into composting ninjas. And this goes far beyond just teaching people how to separate organic waste and dispose of it correctly (either in a selective collection, or in community or home compost bins). We want to create a movement of people who are deeply involved in this cause and provide the resources and knowledge necessary for them to be ambassadors for composting. A composting ninja is resilient and willing to fight the difficult battle against bio-waste devaluation, which involves so many elements of society and so many obstacles that we know how well we have to be prepared to win!
In which countries are you present?
At the moment we are only present in Portugal, although we are participating in international programs. Mudatuga was the European-level winner of Climate Launchpad 2021 (first place in the Urban Solutions Panel, third place in the overall European ranking, and winner of the Audience Award), and made it to the global final. We were also one of the 16 startups selected in the global phase of CLP for their acceleration program, which is super prestigious and brings a lot of networking that will be essential for us to expand our initiative to other countries.
We are also present in the US thanks to the acceleration we are finalizing now next week at the Watson Institute in Boulder, Colorado. It is an institution that specializes in training social entrepreneurs and for 16 weeks we had sessions every day to address and improve the main points of our business.
With the launch of Compostuga®, we intend to expand our presence throughout Southern Europe and market in Spain, France, Italy, and wherever else we can reach.
We have also submitted some European projects and are waiting for the results soon, but the expectation is to do an Erasmus+ environmental education project with France, Sweden and Greece. Hoping we can reach those countries too!
Why start a business on the sustainability front?
For me it was quite obvious to work with sustainability because it is something that has moved me for a decade: in 2010, I entered college to study Biological Sciences in São Paulo. I have always been very connected to nature and dreamed of working close to it. Gradually, throughout the course, I developed my environmental awareness and learned about the ongoing destruction of our planet. In the very first year of the course, I bought my first worm compost bin and started composting in my mother’s apartment. In 2012, I became vegan and in the meantime I have been learning about the zero waste movement and have been trying to reduce my consumption and waste generation. When I arrived in Coimbra in 2017, it was a frustration to see so much trash out of place – indeed, trash is waste out of place. Around here, I didn’t see composting, and I witnessed young and theoretically informed people throwing plastic into the undifferentiated bin saying that a machine will separate it later. The lack of information about composting, about landfills and about Mechanical-Biological Treatment was what motivated me to take the dream of having a composting project off paper.
What are the biggest obstacles of working in this area?
Thousands. I think the first challenge is actually to undertake in any field being a woman and an immigrant. When you add to this the “composting” factor, there is a mountain of credibility to climb. Fortunately, I feel that this phase has been overcome.
The challenges regarding environmental education are the lack of information and also the misinformation spread over the internet (the famous “composting myths”, which take a lot of work to “debunk”).
Another point is the lack of appreciation for the work of environmental educators – unfortunately many people want the service to be provided without financial compensation, and being Mudatuga my only source of income for almost 2 years, I have faced many challenges regarding our business model and its financial sustainability.
I think that in the end there are other smaller challenges, such as people’s lack of motivation to change a habit, society’s lack of sense of responsibility in general, where the responsibility for waste disposal always tends to be outsourced, and also consumerism / lack of awareness when consuming. Food is very wasteful, and even though composting at least helps in reusing the nutrients for the soil, it does not “make up” for food waste.
We want composting to be seen as a last resort, and only compost what really cannot be utilized in other ways.
What achievement are you most proud of as the leader of this startup?
I think in my heart I have two in focus: the first was our participation in the “School to Compost”, of 2021in which we joined forces with Zero Waste Lab and André Maciel of Hortas Lx to create a super environmental education project with the support of the Environmental Fund and ENEA (National Strategy for Environmental Education). From writing the notice, preparing the content, teaching the workshops – it was all a great victory in my opinion. There were 40 workshops done in 5 weeks.
Another big win was being selected by the World Economic Forum, Global Shapers Community and The Climate Reality Project as 1 of the top 9 young innovators fighting climate change. Seeing Mudatuga’s name on their website was really one of the things that made me feel like “it’s working out.” We now have 6 months ahead of us of support from these entities to scale up our impact and our leadership role in the fight against climate change.
What is the next step?
In June we will launch the kickstarter for our Compostuga. We are super excited for this to finally become a reality, and to see our “baby” in people’s homes. Compostuga® is not just any compost bin: it is a Bokashi type home compost bin, for any apartment, and it is made with more sustainable materials. We know that plastic is not always the enemy, but we wanted to create something different and that has a smaller ecological footprint. The biggest differential, besides the aesthetic issue, is the value chain: local, regenerative, and involving only suppliers that are helping in the regeneration of the soil directly and in capturing CO2 from the atmosphere. I hope it will be a great success, because it was the result of 1 year of hard work, prototypes, material tests, frustrations, new prototypes, iterations and a full time acceleration process.
Also for 2022, we want to carry out more environmental education projects, which will continue to be our “flagship”, investing in partnerships with City Halls, Parish Councils, and other entities that are in need of support in implementing awareness projects and/or training in this area.