Monday, 3 August 2015

Stop Treating Trash Like Its Garbage

By Amy Bond
Sustainability Program Manager – US, at CBRE



The solution seemed simple enough.

In 2009, a large US based Fortune 100 Company learned about a newly available method for decreasing operational waste sent to landfill. A neighbouring employer with a similar work force had established a successful model for sending non-recyclables to a nearby waste to energy (WtE) facility. Combined with a composting program, this other large employer could boast zero landfill for their newly opened facility expansion.

Within weeks of touring the new building, the Fortune 100 Company was ready to send a test load for WtE from its own national headquarters. Reducing operational waste sent to landfill by 30% had been declared a corporate goal and hopes were high that the incineration of trash previously destined for landfill would contribute to reaching the objective.

Unfortunately, the contents of this trial load were a mess, literally. Rotting food, metal shelving, liquids and other non-energy generating waste made the load too contaminated for processing. For future collections to be acceptable, the trash would need to be ‘cleaned.’ For a company with nearly four million square feet of office space and thousands of employees, the task seemed daunting.

But complex problems are worth solving. Take, for example, food upstart Hampton Creek.  The California based food Technology Company is on a mission to find plant-based ingredients that can be substituted for more costly, environmentally wasteful ingredients in common food. The company seeks to mitigate the impact of animal husbandry on the environment, and improve nutrition. For example, they’re using Canadian yellow peas as an egg substitute in Just Mayo (widely available in retail stores along with the eggless Just Cookies).  Their CEO recently took out a full page advertisement in the New York Times challenging food leaders to re-envision the choices they offer consumers: “When you create a path that makes it easy for good people to do good things - they will do it.”

Like Hampton Creek, the Fortune 100 Company went on to create a path that made doing a good thing easier and now boasts an EPA award-winning recycling program.  Trash has been repurposed as a commodity. Mixed recyclables become new goods. Compost becomes garden mulch. ‘Clean’ trash becomes energy. Improving the waste diversion program was far from simple, but it’s encouraging to believe in the great things good people can accomplish.


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