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Meet Anastasia Mikhalochkina of Lean Orb in Wynwood

Today we’d like to introduce you to Anastasia Mikhalochkina.

Anastasia, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Everyone needs to stand for something bigger than themselves and aim to create a net-positive effect in the world. At some point of my reflection on life, I realized that by protecting the environment, we are standing for the well-being of every living thing.

I grew up in the city but most summers were spent at our family’s country house a few hours away from the border of Russia and Finland. I knew nearly every lake in a 10-mile radius of the house since my family hiked a lot collectively. My understanding of natural cycles came from the wise lessons shared by my grandmother and inspired me later to start my company, Lean Orb.

She taught me to respect deeply the lake near our house since it has continued to be the source of our drinking water for generations. The health of the lake represented our family’s well-being. That, along with other life lessons, burning desire to work passionately, wake up inspired and remain curious about whatever skill, service or product I offer into the world gave me the motivation I needed at the time.

Said all that, I still contributed for most of my life to the conventional linear economy concept of obtaining things to simply use and discard them. Naturally, I assumed that societal norm has been tested and proven to serve our communities in the best ethical, economic and environmental way. I later learned that most of our society contributes to highly unsustainable practices that are leading our planet to the shortage of materials and environmental catastrophe.

Nevertheless, I am an optimist by nature and certain that if you make it easy for people to do the right thing, they won’t disappoint. Just as much we can be a part of the problem, we can become a solution through the means of our consumer power, collective practices but most importantly the work we do.

Fast forward, fascinated by the idea of circular design and overwhelmed by our past elections, I knew we will spend a great deal of time trying to save our past environmental progress. Lean Orb was created to help our communities rid of plastic packaging waste. Did you know that 50% of plastic we produce is used only once before it’s discarded, or that it will remain in our ecosystem forever? The notion of a single-use product or food packaging being made from a material that was intended to last forever never seemed logical to me. I wanted to be part of the solution.

The word ‘Lean’ stands for the creation of value with fewer resources. It is also one of the founding principles of the circular economy, a system where products are designed to feed back into the system so nothing is ever wasted.

Just imagine a world where nothing is lost and everything is shared. I want that world over any other.

Although start-up life is frustrating, our mission as you can see is worth the hustle. In the last year, we had replaced over 90K plastic disposables from our communities. Our full product line of disposable tableware is made from a variety of an agricultural waste such as grass fibers and highly sustainable wood. The goal is to replace plastic with products with alternatives that will have a kinder footprint and won’t damage our soil and waterways once discarded.

Regardless of our brilliant ideas, it definitely takes a village. We are extremely fortunate to be guided by the best mentors our city has to offer thanks to the participation in WIN Lab (Women Innovating Now), an accelerator program out of Babson College. After 8 months, 6 formal presentations and countless pitches, Lean Orb came in as one of 3 finalists in the program and we were named Top 10 Start-ups to Watch by Miami Herald this spring. What excites me most is the response we get from the community, people want to be a part of the environmental movement and sustainability is finally becoming a viable concept for American businesses.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Funding is an obstacle. I used my savings to start the company but we currently need more local accounts with restaurants and hotels to survive the next few years. On the personal level, starting a venture is a lonely business. Most of your family won’t understand what you are doing and friends find it difficult to relate to your daily struggles of keeping the company afloat. That’s why being a part of the start-up community is so important, you meet new people that share similar values.

Please tell us about Lean Orb.
To address this problem of plastic pollution locally and globally, Lean Orb has been working to create a fully biodegradable product line of disposable tableware and food-service packaging produced from plant roots, grass fibers, and highly sustainable wood.

We manufacture and distribute a line of disposable tableware such as plates, cutlery, cups, take-out containers, straws and other catering supplies. We use agricultural by-products of sugarcane, wheat straw, palm leaf, bamboo, and birch wood productions to create value through a zero-waste model. Fibers used are non-toxic, unbleached, compostable and recycled.

Although sustainable disposables sound like an oxymoron, we live in a consumer culture where the demand for the disposable products will keep growing. Knowing that hospitality industry remains one of the most wasteful, we see that as an incredible opportunity to innovate and help change the world by making disposable products that shift the industry.

How we do it? Equipped with research and guided by a zero-waste model we help monitor and measure company’s environmental advancement in plastic reduction and waste optimization.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
Hiking with my grandmother will remain my happiest childhood memory. We would get lost for hours, and we still do when I come to visit family during summer months. It’s the absolute best.

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