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Zero Waste vs. 100% Resource Recovery

You might think Zero Waste and 100% Resource Recovery are the same thing – any difference is semantics.  Unfortunately it’s not only possible but actually common for organizations to achieve the zero waste goal without collecting the real prize – the financial savings and gains derived from 100% resource recovery.

In commercial real estate, smart managers engage in an analysis of the ‘highest and best use’ for each asset. The analysis needs to be done every few years to take into consideration changes in building codes, changes in consumer preferences and demographic shifts.

What does this have to do with the stuff in our dumpsters?  Well, every few years, new items migrate from being considered ‘waste’ to being considered valuable commodities.  Ten years ago it was expensive to dispose of French fry grease, and now people steal it.  

As resources have become more constrained, more innovation and creativity are applied.  Last year at PopTech, I met fellow entrepreneurs John Bissell and Ryan Smith, whose start-up company is making biodegradable plastics out of waste water sludge (think about what that is for a moment and then think of your company’s most troubling waste stream).  As they scale their operations, it will mean municipalities will stop sending this sludge to the landfill, and it will begin to replace petroleum based plastics.

With innovative entrepreneurs extracting new opportunities from waste at a pace never before seen in the waste industry, why aren’t more companies staying on top of the ‘best and highest use’ for all of their byproduct materials?

The short answer is, today this is a very time-intensive process that few people are qualified to do. After exhaustive analysis of available technology and infrastructure, six months later the research is dated. And, a working solution in one geography may not work in the next county, much less in overseas operations.

While employees can actively research new solutions, they could do more with tools to help them passively research new solutions, drawing innovation to them instead of hunting and pecking for it.

Even simple opportunities, like reallocating resources within an organization are botched all the time because there are no systems in place to make this simple, effective and scalable.

Companies are starting to pay attention to the circular cycles within their supply chains. If your waste can be the input of your supplier, you may have a strategic advantage on your hands.  But those opportunities can take years to discover, especially when companies keep data close to the vest.

Entrepreneurs like Ryan and John are driving the innovations that capture our imaginations. But software innovations will make it easier for your company to stay on top of the ‘best and highest use’ of your waste materials. 

What systems or processes does your company have in place to discover new solutions, divert waste from landfills and turn a cost center into a profit center?  If you are relying on a handful of overworked employees, consider offering them software tools like those in the RecycleMatch enterprise software platform so that they can achieve these goals faster and maximize the value of the resources in your dumpster.  After all, zero waste gets headlines, but 100% resource recovery improves the bottom line.

Look for more next week from Ms Farrell on deriving ROI from waste byproducts.


Brooke Farrell is Founder and CEO of RecycleMatch, the first software company empowering enterprise organizations to accelerate their zero waste efforts while maximizing the economic value of their recyclables and byproducts. RecycleMatch was named Entrepreneur Magazine’s Brilliant… [Read more about Brooke B Farrell]


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