Does Everybody Have a Waste Problem?

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.

Tom Szaky is the Founder and CEO of TerraCycle, Inc. a company that makes eco-revolutionary products entirely from garbage! TerraCycle, since its humble beginnings in a Princeton University dorm room, is committed to being a triple bottom line company. Tom at the ancient age of 19 learned about composting with worms. The concept of using tiny little worms to turn food waste into a powerful, organic fertilizer fascinated Tom, who was appalled by the amount of food discarded by his campus's cafeteria. Tom started TerraCycle with no investors from a friend's garage by building a Worm Gin where he could house millions of worms in a small area. He all but bankrupted himself and maxed out all his credit cards to build the machine. With the help of friends he would shovel pounds of rotten, maggot-infested food from the Princeton cafeterias. Without any money left over, Tom could not afford to buy bottles to package his fertilizer. That's when the sustainability gods smiled on Tom, who was up one night wandering the streets Princeton in search of an answer to his packaging dilemma. It just happened to be recycling night and Tom realized that millions of homes were putting billions of free bottles out on the curb once a week! That serendipitous moment set everything to follow into motion. Slowly he began to finance his infantile start up by winning business plan contests. Finally he hit the pay dirt! He won the million dollar grand prize at the Carrot Capital Business plan contest. However, the financiers of the contest wanted to move TerraCycle away from used bottles and away from it's environmental focus. Despite being on the verge of bankruptcy, Tom turned down the money. In the six years since then TerraCycle has grown to a multi-million dollar company that doubles in size every year. Still we are committed to our triple bottom line beginnings. Still making our products from other's people waste. Still based in an Urban Enterprise Zone in Trenton, NJ. Still a second chance employer. Find out how and why, here at

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