Rethinking Waste Through Technology in a Circular Economy
With the planet facing a resource crunch, our consumption-hungry culture is quickly becoming unsustainable. The linear “make, use, dispose” economy depends on vast amounts of resources — and creates huge amounts of waste. According to “Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage,” 80 percent of goods in the U.S. are thrown away within their first six months of life.
An alternative that’s gaining traction is the circular economy, which aims to weed out waste through a regenerative industrial system. In a circular economy, waste doesn’t exist – all products and materials serve a purpose within the system for as long as possible.
The circular economy’s success rests on four basic building blocks:
- A cradle-to-cradle view of materials that promotes a waste-free, efficient system
- An understanding of industrial ecology and how to deploy waste as a resource
- A commitment to including diverse players from across the market
- Systems thinking and leveraging technology and data to find solutions
For the model to work, manufacturers, service providers, product users and collectors all have to be on the same page. Adapting to this mindset will require many industries to change, including the waste industry itself.
Viewing waste in a new way
Traditional waste management providers also own landfills and hauling assets, creating incentives for them to break the regenerative cycle and pile landfills high with trash. Waste and recycling provider Rubicon Global is disrupting the industry, however, through a new asset-light, technology-driven model that benefits businesses and the environment.
Technology can help to facilitate a circular economy by connecting haulers and customers in a new way. For instance, businesses can use Rubicon’s technology to request waste pickups when needed, instead of on a fixed schedule, eliminating unnecessary transportation costs and fuel consumption. Haulers bring the material they collect to processors instead of landfills, and Rubicon’s cloud-based auction site enables businesses to bid on the collected materials. By sending less trash to landfills and selling their waste for recycling or reuse, Rubicon’s customers boost their bottom lines while also doing good for the planet.
The power of technology
Gaining insight into sustainability initiatives is key for businesses that want to create successful circular economies. Providing customers with detailed pickup data enables them to track their progress against diversion targets and manage high- and low-performing materials. Companies can also use data to optimize diversion efforts and the frequency of trash removal, resulting in financial and environmental benefits.
As resources grow more precious, our old industrial system just doesn’t work anymore. To create a more sustainable circular economy, we as an industry must use technology to evolve, and enable businesses to fulfill an old maxim: turning “one man’s trash into someone else’s treasure.
Felix is the Chief Innovation/Supply Chain Officer at Rubicon Global. He joined Rubicon in November 2014 to build a comprehensive set of performance metrics for internal and external use. In addition, Felix is responsible for the vendor relations and negotiations with hauler partners.
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