Trash as a Circular Commodity

Evan Bue

Let’s begin with a few questions:

  1. Would we be less productive if we sat down for every meal?
  2. How late would we be if we couldn’t pick up breakfast on the way to work?
  3. How many phone calls would we miss if we had to wait for lunch to be prepared, cooked, served, and savored?

Many of us could probably answer these questions and conclude our lives would be less productive were it not for the convenience of fast food and to-go options.

Today’s proliferation of fast-food restaurants meets a growing demand. Time is a precious commodity, and efficiency is the name of today’s market game.

But a report by As You Sow and the Natural Resources Defense Council recently concluded that an industry characterized by its efficiency —fast food —is actually profoundly inefficient. How can this be?

While this blog can’t replace the comprehensiveness of the report, it would be good to elaborate — recycle, if you will — a few points for general consumption.

The problem is twofold: environmental and economic. According to the report, published in January 2015, the fast food, beverage, and grocery store industries could dramatically improve the way they handle waste. Analyzing the packaging practices of 47 businesses, the report calculated that $11.4 billion of recyclable materials are thrown away each year. And while some companies waste less than others, none have reached best practice packaging efficiencies.


Jumping to the economic point, better recycling practices have the potential to create jobs. It is estimated that if the U.S. national recycling rate reached 75 percent by the year 2030 (the current U.S. recycling rate is at 34.5 percent), nearly 1.5 million additional jobs would be created. That’s in addition to the $32 billion in revenue generated by the 137,000 people already employed by recycling and manufacturing companies.

Thinking of trash as a circular commodity can help put things in perspective. Defined more broadly, a circular economy uses the waste from one business and turns into the feedstock of another. The disposal of reusable materials is a failure of market and foresight; it’s safe to say the market at large hasn’t realized the economic potential of more robust recycling programs.

But we at Ecova have, and we’re working to help businesses realize their own potential. Our Total Waste Solution package reduces clients’ overall waste production while simultaneously increasing recycling opportunities. The result is an average reduction of 15 to 20 percent of overall waste costs.

Ecova and the report, then, shed light on cost savings, environmental stewardship, and market improvement via waste and recycling management. We hope you don’t dispose of the potential such initiatives have, and recycle the knowledge into valuable action.

To learn more about energy management savings opportunities for the New Year, watch our recent webinar on our 2015 Energy & Sustainability Priorities and Predictions.

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