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Does Everybody Have a Waste Problem?

Tom Szaky | Wednesday July 15th, 2009 | 0 Comments

Subaru, a company that you may assume creates significant waste, recycles 97% of its manufacturing waste and reuses the rest to generate electricity. (Photo: Eric Castro on Flickr)
I make products out of what would otherwise be garbage. That’s all we at TerraCycle do. So of course garbage is an issue that’s front of mind for us. But what about your company? What about any company? Does every company have a waste problem? Or turned around, a waste opportunity? Is there any company that doesn’t have a waste problem?

There is waste even where you least expect it
I got to thinking of this when a friend at a video game company said they didn’t see any waste generated by their iPhone app. It’s all bits and bytes, no packaging, nothing to be thrown away when you’re done with it.
Definitely good points, and yet it must be pointed out: Waste isn’t always a visible thing, laying on the street, on your factory floor, or in a garbage can.
In the case of a video game developer, it can be in the form of inefficient servers at their office. Computers that are made with toxic materials and are difficult to disassemble/recycle. Even requiring employees to come in to work when their physical presence isn’t absolutely necessary and online collaboration/project management services make it perfectly doable to have a staff that is mostly or entirely remote while working.
For many businesses, such options aren’t available, people are needed on the factory floor, and their products are very much in the physical realm. I can say, 100%, that all of them have a waste problem/opportunity. Yours included.
This isn’t to say it’s time for you to put on your villain hat and close shop. It’s meant to be a wake up call. Where are you presuming there’s nothing that can be done with certain components of your production? Hogwash.
Even if you’ve checked before and found that “nobody” took, paid for, or had use for your waste, that may not be the case any longer. We are an inventive society, particularly in times of so called “recession.” I challenge you to ask again, to look again, to be open that what you now pay to be disposed of can indeed find a new home and use for it, perhaps even at a profit for you.
Unexpected efficiency: a look at Subaru
Of any industry, one would give carmakers perhaps the most elbow room in terms of waste generated: paint remnants, cleaning runoff, steel cuttings, plastic shavings, welding remnants, and on. Of course, this would all add up to a huge amount of waste, right? None. 97% is recycled at Subaru, and the rest is incinerated, creating steam, used for power.
Subaru, you might argue, is a major company, and can afford to dedicate resources to achieve such a result. Can you afford not to? With cities passing such previously unheard of laws as requiring recycling and composting, that a major percentage of new construction roofs be green roofs, and the EPA arguing for tough new emissions standards on shipping why couldn’t companies like yours be required to have greater responsibility for their waste in the near future?
So what are you going to do? Be proactive or reactive? Is there any business that doesn’t have a waste issue/opportunity? Is the way to less waste more legislation, greater infrastructure, greater ingenuity, or all of the above?
Tom Szaky is founder and CEO of TerraCycle, based out of Trenton, New Jersey.


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