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Recycling Startup: Market Should Be 'Main Driver' of Environmental Change

Alexis Petru headshotWords by Alexis Petru
Energy & Environment
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Leftover pizza dough into ethanol fuel and old uniforms into pet bed stuffing – where some peek into a business’ dumpster and see only trash, Rubicon Global finds opportunity.

The Atlanta-based waste management company wants to help corporations cut their waste streams, find innovative recycling options for their unconventional waste materials and slash their garbage bills by as much as 20 to 30 percent, Rubicon told the New York Times.

Founded in 2008, the company has nabbed contracts with 7-Eleven, grocery chains like Wegman’s, big box retail stores, hospitals and even several Fortune 500 companies, the New York Times reported. Rubicon acts like a waste consultant – studying a business’ waste stream and cataloging the data into its proprietary software platform, called Caesar.

Using this technology, Rubicon’s clients can monitor their own discards, and Rubicon can investigate ways to reduce the company’s waste stream and bills, Wired reported. One of the simplest cost-saving measures is to have Caesar determine if a client can have its garbage picked up less frequently.

Rubicon also utilizes Caesar to host an online auction where trash collection companies can bid on its client’s waste management contracts, the New York Times reported. This virtual marketplace promotes competition among waste haulers, driving down rates for Rubicon’s clients.

Rubicon’s innovative software also analyzes a client’s waste stream and displays a list of local recyclers that will accept or pay for waste materials the client generates, Wired reported – from restaurant distributer Martin-Brower's typical recyclables like organic waste, cardboard and shrink wrap, to the less conventional: the aforementioned pizza dough from a national pizza chain and 400,000 company uniforms from a regional supermarket chain, according to the New York Times report. A Rubicon client was even able to sell the insulated containers it used to carry seafood to a company that repurposed them to transport bull semen.

And when the client benefits from reducing its waste stream, so does Rubicon. As Rubicon saves clients money on their garbage bills or makes them a profit from selling recyclable materials, it takes a cut of the earnings, Wired reported.

This is a very different revenue model than the ones used by waste collection companies like Waste Management and Republic Services, Rubicon CEO and co-founder Nate Morris told the New York Times. These corporations not only haul trash, but also own the landfills where the trash is buried. And because they’re paid by the ton for the garbage entering the landfill (a fee structure originally designed to discourage waste), they don’t have a financial incentive to encourage businesses to reduce their waste stream and recycle more.

Rubicon is certainly not the only company out there aiming to reduce garbage bills for clients; a Waste Management spokesperson told the New York Times that the waste industry has hundreds of such brokers. But Rubicon, in its market niche as high-tech waste broker to large corporate clients, has no “head-to-head competitor,” Morris told the newspaper.

And investors are clearly taking notice: Rubicon announced in January that it raised $30 million to expand its operations nationwide and invest in new recycling technology research, Wired reported. One of the new technologies that Rubicon is currently testing is a dumpster-mounted camera and sensors that send an alert when the bin is full or has been emptied.

Rubicon may be catching attention for introducing technology to a traditionally low-tech industry, but its founder’s political philosophies are also unique. Morris is a staunch Republican, and these days, the terms “Republican” and “environmentalist” are anything but complementary. But Morris, a friend of and fundraiser for Rand Paul and a former intern for Mitch McConnell, thinks the GOP should embrace a concern for the environment.

“I felt [environmentalism] was an issue that a lot of people within my own political persuasion have lost, which I feel should be our issue,” he told the New York Times.  “The main driver of environmental change should not be government or NGOs — it should be the market.”

While I would personally advocate for the public, nonprofit AND private sectors all working to effect environmental change, Morris is right that more companies need to use the market to advance sustainability – and Republicans are missing out when they completely ignore or shut down environmental debate.

Image credit: Flickr/Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Passionate about both writing and sustainability, Alexis Petru is freelance journalist and communications consultant based in the San Francisco Bay Area whose work has appeared on Earth911, Huffington Post and Patch.com. Prior to working as a writer, she coordinated environmental programs for Bay Area cities and counties. Connect with Alexis on Twitter at @alexispetru

Alexis Petru headshotAlexis Petru

Passionate about both writing and sustainability, Alexis Petru is freelance journalist and communications consultant based in the San Francisco Bay Area whose work has appeared on Earth911, Huffington Post and Patch.com. Prior to working as a writer, she coordinated environmental programs for various Bay Area cities and counties for seven years. She has a degree in cultural anthropology from UC Berkeley.

Read more stories by Alexis Petru