Before I tell you how to make money from waste, let me first tell you how waste is treated in our throw-away society by sharing some facts.
Eighty percent of the stuff we buy is thrown away within six months, nearly 1.3 billion tonnes per year. The global costs of dealing with all that trash reached € 170 billion in 2013. Waste is one of the larger industries in the world and the industry will become even larger. By 2025 the global waste costs reach € 275 billion. In Europe most industrial, business and consumer waste goes to waste incineration plants, where 75% of the waste vaporizes and generates ‘sustainable’ energy. The remaining 25% consist of non-combustable residue, called bottom ash. Bottom ash contains large quantities of valuable minerals and metals, for instance 3,5 to 4 kilogram of copper per 1000 kilogram. A number of technologies are able to recover much more minerals and metals from bottom ash compared to regular mining sites. The majority of waste incineration plants have not made the investments yet to mine their bottom ash to the max but this is a matter of time, as there is literally gold in it. Currently bottom ash is being used as a bottom layer for roads or as landfill top layer. Incredable amounts of valuable and rare resources get lost this way.
On most other continents, like North America, the majority of waste goes directly to landfill sites. Some of these landfill sites recover methane gas, which is formed during the breakdown of organic waste. Regrettably most of the global methane emissions from landfill, estimated to be between 30 and 70 million tonnes each year, escapes directly to the atmosphere or by diffusion through the cover soil.
It is sad that valuable resources are lost during incineration and landfilling but the good news is that the waste landscape is changing rapidly. More and more people become aware that the linear economy, where we tend to throw away what we have used and forget about it, is not a sustainable model. We need to take swift measures to transform to a Circular Economy, where we recover all of our waste to create new stuff. Because a fast growing number of organizations, companies and individuals blow the circular wizzle, waste finally has our serious attention.
Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, which evolved to a technological revolution, most waste streams have a negative economical value. This means that organizations, companies and individuals have to pay for their waste disposal. There is no need to say there is money in waste but this money generally goes to waste traders and waste processors. This is about to change: we have reached the waste tipping point where SMEs can benefit from what traditional waste traders and waste processors lacked to do: developing new resource recovery solutions and creating alternatives to existing materials, like developing composites with similar or even better characteristics. This tipping point has everything to do with upcycling.
Upcycling is the process of converting waste into resources or materials with better characteristics and/or applications. It is all about combining ideas, knowledge and incremental innovation. Especially SMEs can benefit from this, as they are able to spin off new ventures faster than large companies, which are stuck in traditional models and processes. These spin offs are potentially the next growth engines for the (circular) economy.
There is only one major barrier; for SMEs it is hard to get sustainable innovation financed. It is a common misunderstanding from banks and their investment advisers that sustainable innovation takes a lot of time, is costly and fails most of the time. Therefore we have developed a proven model where we can boost any sustainable innovation within 12 months. Before executing our model we do a fast but thorough viability check. Our viability check will help companies raise the necessary capital to develop a proof of concept. After the proof of concept we help companies to finance a production line or plant and provide all necessary support to accelerate the spin off companies.
Please share this publication with anyone who deals with bulky waste or is planning to do so. If we want to build a world without waste, the easiest way is to start from our own network and neighbourhood and share our best practises on a global scale. Do you need help making money from waste? Feel free to share your thoughts with us!